Commissioner balks at more money for Sedgwick County jail

WICHITA — A Sedgwick County commissioner refused to vote today to approve the transfer of $2 million from a contingency fund to pay for the cost of housing jail inmates out of county and for the cost of medical care for all inmates through the end of the year.

Gwen Welshimer's vote signals her growing discontent with the Sheriff's Office, which she says is not doing enough to curb growth at the jail. She said she was unwilling to allocate the money until she sees more cooperation from the office, headed by Sheriff Robert Hinshaw.

Hinshaw stressed that the jail is "part of an overall criminal justice system." The sheriff, he said, is obligated to accept all inmates sent to the jail as a result of a criminal case.

"The pace of the inmate population has far outstripped all of our predictions. Part of that is people are staying longer in jail. We are trying to figure out why that is."

Hinshaw said that his office has implemented alternative programs such as pre-trial services, work release and the Sedgwick County Offender Assessment Program to try to decrease the number of inmates in jail.

During a discussion that was cordial yet pointed, other commissioners noted that the county had a legal obligation to house inmates and provide medical care for them. Commissioner Tim Norton asked a county budget official if the sheriff had transferred money out of its contingency fund for "niceties" such as new vehicles and uniforms. The answer was "no." Norton then noted that the money only was being used for services the county was obligated to provide for public safety.

The board voted 4 to 1, with Welshimer the only vote against, to approve the transfer of money.

Read more about the discussion in Thursday's Eagle.