County to end contract with jail consultant

A jail consultant who didn't meet the goals of a $124,616 contract, referred to a Sedgwick County official as "Mr. CYA" and wrote an e-mail the sheriff deemed deceptive will soon receive notice that the county is cutting ties with her firm.

Commissioners — including three who previously voiced support for consultants Nancy Insco and Allen Beck and voted to give them more money — agreed unanimously Wednesday to terminate the county's contract with Justice Concepts Inc.

Insco and Beck had asked for more time — until May 31 — to finish a contract that expired last June.

But their relationship with the county had deteriorated, county leaders acknowledged.

Justice Concepts "helped us facilitate a beneficial expansion of pre-trial services with the city of Wichita, and they've pointed us in some other good directions," public safety director Bob Lamkey told commissioners Wednesday.

But he said there also had been "some disappointments," particularly about the timeliness of accomplishments and reports.

"Unfortunately, I believe the overall business relationship has become unsustainable for Sedgwick County," he said.

Insco said she agreed with Lamkey's recommendation to terminate the contract.

"I think we're at a place where we concur this is the right decision," she said.

Justice Concepts, based in Kansas City, Mo., took on the project, she said, to help determine if the county needed to build a new jail. She said her firm helped illuminate other remedies to jail overcrowding.

She said it was unfortunate that Justice Concepts' relationship with the county soured "because of the political climate."

She said she had no interest in pushing to finish any more work than what Lamkey recommends.

"I think it's in everybody's best interest to proceed in this fashion," she said.

E-mail trail

The Eagle reported last year that the firm failed to meet its main goal of reducing the jail's inmate population by 25 percent.

It also obtained e-mails between Insco and commissioners Gwen Welshimer, who had been Insco's most vocal supporter, and Kelly Parks in which Insco referred to a "boys club" and called an unidentified official "Mr. CYA." CYA stands for "cover your ass."

Insco also said in an e-mail to Welshimer and Parks that Lamkey, county manager William Buchanan and corrections director Mark Masterson want to "screw us over and run us out of town."

Earlier this week, The Eagle published an e-mail from Insco to Welshimer and Parks that Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said was deceptive. Insco told the commissioners in September that he had refused to cooperate with her and failed to share a presentation with her that he said he had sent her a week earlier.

Lamkey recommended to commissioners that they not allow Justice Concepts to continue its work to receive final payment of about $46,167. Instead, he recommended allowing it to finish a report that Insco said in June was on her hard drive and that was never delivered to the county. Lamkey has withheld payment of $7,200 for that report.

He also said he would recommend reimbursing Insco for travel for one or two days for recent trips to talk about jail facilities.

One 'asset': Pre-trial services

After making a motion to follow that recommendation, Welshimer read from a statement titled "Failure isn't failure. Failure is never trying."

Welshimer was one of three commissioners, including Parks and Karl Peterjohn, who voted to pay Justice Concepts an extra $28,511 for work deemed outside the scope of its original contract. She said the county hired Justice Concepts to avoid building a jail addition.

"It's a tradition in Sedgwick County to throw money at the problem," she said."... It prevents having to get down to work and root out the causes.

"The justification for this attitude has been that all of our jail population problems are some other elected official's fault."

But some officials have said that Insco blamed a lack of work product on others.

In a September e-mail, Hinshaw told her: "Forget about the rhetoric, let us have open dialog and work toward solutions. Frankly, I (believe) it is immaterial at this point what went awry or if someone is to blame. We need to solve the problems. Are you part of that team?"

Parks said he had originally suggested a pay-for-performance contract with Justice Concepts.

"That didn't happen," he said.

Some good came out of the contract, he said.

Pre-trial services, he said, "have been an enormous asset to clearing out those people who did not need to be in jail for those minuscule things."

Pre-trial services staff screen inmates to see whether they may be qualified for alternative programs instead of going to jail.

Welshimer issued a challenge to her colleagues.

"Where do we go from here?" she asked. "What are the chances of all the commissioners setting a goal and taking a collective leadership role. Without it, the word 'failure' will truly apply."

Not 'one more penny'

Commissioner Dave Unruh, who with board member Tim Norton, voted against paying Justice Concepts the $28,511, said he appreciated the challenge.

He said the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council — made up of judges, lawyers, the sheriff, commissioners and other leaders — will continue to work to reduce the jail's population through alternative programs such as work release and day reporting.

"The lower population numbers we enjoy today are due in large part to the alternative programs CJCC implemented long before JCI came on the scene," Unruh said.

He didn't mince words about Justice Concepts before voting: "My opinion is that our contractor has failed in about all measurable outcomes."

Norton suggested ending the contract for cause and said he wasn't comfortable paying Justice Concepts any more money, including the $7,200 for outstanding reports and money for travel.

"Truthfully, I'm not for paying them one more penny,'' he said.

Peterjohn said the jail's population is down from last year, partly because of pre-trial services. But he said the county still faces a major challenge.

"The detention problem and the jail problem in particular has been a large, unlanceable boil on the body politic for at least two decades in this community," he said.

He said he would be remiss in not mentioning journal entries as a cause for lower inmate numbers. After The Eagle reported in January that journal entries took an average 60 to 90 days to be filed, the district attorney's office cut its turnaround time to about two weeks, and the county recently hired a third staff member with the goal of reducing processing time to one week.

Welshimer and Parks said Insco mentioned journal entries as a problem, but Unruh said he never heard her speak about it. The Eagle found no mention of journal entries in e-mails from Insco to Welshimer and Parks during a period dating back to 2007.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle