Work together on jail solutions

The sprawling blond building near Central and Main with the slit windows bears the name of Sedgwick County. But everybody in the county bears some responsibility for the jail, its costs and its overpopulation problem, and needs to act accordingly.

That means the city of Wichita should be a full partner in finding a site for a facility that could house work-release or minimum-security inmates, rather than simply exercise veto power — as it did on proposals to use the city’s Rounds and Porter building or an industrial site on East Murdock.

If “the city is not going to accommodate us anywhere within the city limits,” as Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer suggested last week, that’s unacceptable. Such a facility must be in the community, where inmates can have access to jobs and public transportation. The city needs to help site it.

Shared responsibility also means the city should settle up with the county on its $7 million-plus bill for jailing municipal inmates, rather than waste more public dollars on a legal fight over a fee that’s now being paid by 11 other cities in the county.

For its part, the county needs to do better working with the city and keeping it informed. City officials had to learn from this newspaper that county commissioners were looking at downtown properties for a possible work-release center, and the commission imposed the jail fee without much regard for the city’s concerns.

Doing something about the jail’s overcrowding further dictates that all parties along the spectrum of criminal justice operate as one — something that should go without saying. Yet it wasn’t until The Eagle’s Deb Gruver reported that the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office was taking an average six weeks to process paperwork on inmates ready to be transferred to state prison (compared with an average 18 days in Johnson County) that the office began completing each journal entry in about a week.

Those who corrected the problem deserve credit. If there are other examples of lack of urgency and coordination among the jail’s stakeholders, they demand similar fixes.

“I think that is exactly what it’s going to take to solve this problem,” Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw told The Eagle editorial board. “Everybody acknowledging that this is not a county problem, it’s not a city problem, it’s a community problem.”

The state should be helping out as well, of course, instead of passing legislation to force more costs and inmates on the counties, add penalties to existing crimes and create new categories of crimes.

It was hard to imagine the Historic County Courthouse and the Munger Building next door housing inmates — ideas reportedly on the table, along with using part of the existing courthouse. It’s also hard to imagine that it could be cost-effective to turn such historic buildings into correctional facilities.

Hinshaw’s preference is for a campus-type complex that would offer both flexibility and a long-term answer — though such new construction sounds as potentially costly as the on-site jail expansion the county has tried to avoid.

In any case, this long “period of paralysis by analysis,” as Hinshaw calls it, cannot become a permanent state.

Something is going to have to give on jail overcrowding, and soon. The city of Wichita’s resistance should be the first thing to go.