County pays more to jail consultants

Justice Concepts Inc., a consultant that missed its deadline to reduce the Sedgwick County Jail's population by 25 percent, will receive additional money for work it says it did outside its contract.

County commissioners voted 3-2 on Wednesday to pay about $28,500 more to the company, even though the county hasn't paid part of its original fee. The firm's 10-month contract expired June 4.

The company plans to seek an 18-month contract extension later this month. It has proposed a fee of $274,696, minus $46,167 from the original contract, for a total of $228,529.

The county hired Justice Concepts, a Kansas City firm, in August 2008 to develop programs to reduce the number of inmates at the jail, which is facing overcrowding problems. Reducing the jail's population is important because expanding the jail would cost tens of millions of tax dollars.

The number of inmates increased during the time of the contract, and the group has yet to deliver some reports outlined in the contract.

Justice Concepts did not return phone calls Wednesday. But in an Oct. 7 letter to the county, it said "unfortunate automobile accidents as well as seasonal illnesses" kept the consultants from "the requisite travel to Sedgwick County."

It also said that its consulting partner, the National Center for State Courts, "was hampered by emergency international projects which delayed the specific consultant from on-site appearance until August 2009."

A divided commission

Two commissioners — Tim Norton and Dave Unruh — voted against the additional payment Wednesday, saying they didn't think the work Justice Concepts performed was outside the original stated goal of reducing the jail's population.

Norton said he was uncomfortable with a consultant group working outside its contract without requesting a change order, a common procedure in which additional work or fees are approved ahead of time.

"We let a consultant go and... run up that kind of bill," Norton said.

Unruh agreed, saying, "I'm having a hard time understanding how a well-paid professional consultant didn't know a change order would be required."

Commissioners Gwen Welshimer, Kelly Parks and Karl Peterjohn voted for the additional payment, saying Justice Concepts deserved to be paid for work it performed that the county had not delineated in its original contract.

They also said that Justice Concepts has done a good job of bringing together key players in the criminal justice system and jump-starting pre-trial services. Pre-trial service workers delve into defendants' backgrounds to determine whether they should be kept in jail while awaiting trial.

"I think it is indisputable that pre-trial services was taken out of hibernation by JCI," Parks said.

Welshimer, who has been Justice Concepts' most vocal supporter, said that the county doesn't need more "reports that sit on a shelf and gather dust."

Justice Concepts' value, she reiterated, is in bringing different groups of the criminal justice system to the table.

Reasons for overages

Of the $28,511 considered above and beyond the group's original contract, $7,200 is for trips to Labette and Butler counties to tour facilities there that the county considered using to ease jail overcrowding.

Justice Concepts and county officials in February toured a boot camp in Labette County closed by the state. They toured an honor camp that was part of the El Dorado Correctional Facility in July. The state also closed that facility because of budget concerns.

The $7,200 won't be paid until Justice Concepts submits a feasibility analysis about the use of those two camps, said Bob Lamkey, the county's director of public safety.

During a June meeting with commissioners, consultant Nancy Insco said a report she prepared about the Labette boot camp was on her computer at her office. She later declined to provide a copy to The Eagle.

In August, she said she had expanded the report to include the possibility of using facilities at the prison in El Dorado and that was why it was not finished.

The remaining overages are from additional meetings, responses to special requests and travel, Lamkey said.

Norton said the July trip to Butler County should have raised concerns because Justice Concepts' contract already had expired and the county already had determined that the Labette trip was outside the scope of the contract.

So far, the county has paid Justice Concepts $78,449 of its original $124,616 contract. It paid the group $43,615 on Oct. 10 and $34,834 on Aug. 21, leaving $46,167 of the remaining contract due.

Norton said the county may never get any written reports from Justice Concepts "because that's not what they do," he said, emphasizing the word "they." Instead, he said he's learned they are "relationship builders."

"I don't remember reading that in the contract," he said.

Commissioners plan to meet with Justice Concepts on Nov. 19 to consider the contract extension. The group says in its proposed contract budget that its consultants would visit Sedgwick County each month.

It identified 15 objectives for the 18-month period.