Pretrial services is reducing population at Sedgwick County Jail

More inmates who are in trouble for municipal offenses are qualifying for pretrial services, which is helping reduce the number of inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail, corrections officials say.

Because of that success, commissioners on Wednesday approved adding two intensive supervision officers to the program at a cost of $24,736 this year and $98,941 for next year.

Mark Masterson, director of corrections for the county, explained that pretrial services help release people from jail faster — with supervision to ensure they appear in court to face the charges against them.

The county has had pretrial services in place for the U.S. District Court since 1994. It began providing pretrial services for Municipal Court in 2005.

At that time, pretrial staff evaluated inmates who might be eligible for the program after their first court appearance and made recommendations to judges through the city's Probation Department, Masterson told commissioners.

Now, due to changes in effect since late August, pretrial staff members communicate directly with the city's municipal judges and evaluate inmates before a first appearance.

The improved communication has led to more people qualifying for the program, Masterson said.

Some commissioners credit Justice Concepts Inc. —a consultant group the county hired to find ways to reduce the jail's population — and Municipal Court Judge Jennifer Jones for working closely together to make the program more successful on the municipal side.

The pretrial program was funded to serve an average daily population of 170, Masterson said. During the first eight months of this year, it averaged 200.

Inmates from Municipal Court averaged about 10 each month during that time, Masterson said.

After changes were made Aug. 24, 61 inmates facing municipal charges were approved and placed into the program.

Masterson said the September daily average population was 249 compared with 170 last year, and the number of clients from the city was 59 compared with five last September.

The cost of pretrial services is lower than putting people in jail or alternative programs such as work release, Masterson said. The cost last year was $12.34 per day. The projected cost this year, with the added staff, is $10.95 per day to serve an average daily population of 225. Next year, the cost is projected to drop to $10.65 to serve 250 inmates per day.

It costs about $30 a day to house an inmate in a jail outside the county. That means if the program averages 250 people, it would take about a month and a half to break even on the cost of adding staff, Masterson said.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer, who has been a supporter of Justice Concepts, said she looks forward to "even greater participation" in the program.

"I'm particularly grateful to Judge Jones for her cooperation," Welshimer said. "It's wonderful to start seeing a reduction in the jail's population."