Eagle editorial: Jail diversion is paying off

04/22/2014 5:31 PM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

The Sedgwick County Jail would have to keep growing along with its population, or so taxpayers were told. But that conventional wisdom is turning out to have been wrong, thanks in part to the county’s alternative corrections programs such as pretrial services, a day-reporting center, a drug court, mental health assessment and more.

The Sedgwick County Commission heard that good news from County Manager William Buchanan at last week’s regular meeting. Among the facts showing that the county’s countermeasures are working: Instead of having 1,688 or 1,993 inmates – the projections for 2013 dating from one and two decades ago, respectively – the jail had an average population of 1,391 last year. Meanwhile, the county is avoiding the $10 million to $18 million it would be spending on annual capital costs if the jail had expanded to handle the crowding.

As Buchanan acknowledged, the numbers don’t account for everything that determines how many people end up under arrest and in jail. And the many alternative programs aren’t free, costing $3.5 million last year.

But County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh rightly called the report “absolutely fantastic,” also praising the professional staff, the judiciary and the county’s other partners in the success.

Best of all, Buchanan is now projecting a stable jail population over the next 10 years.

The review was eye-opening confirmation of the value to the taxpayer of seeking other ways to deal with many offenders and of ensuring that the jail is reserved for those who need to be there for the public’s protection.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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