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Continued staffing issues shuts down county's juvenile residential facility

KMUW/File Photo
Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake Center

County corrections officials say employee turnover is a problem.

Sedgwick County closed its juvenile residential facility due to continued staffing issues in its corrections system.

Staff from the residential facility was then moved to the county’s juvenile detention facility to make up for its shortage of workers.

The residential facility allows juveniles to serve their sentences without confinement, according to the county. The detention facility is more restrictive, like a jail.

“Staff issue, 100 percent,” Assistant Director of Corrections Steven Stonehouse said at a county staff meeting.

Before the closure, there were five juveniles in the residential program, which previously was moved to the detention facility to help with staffing issues. Juveniles who are part of that program are now in confinement.

“The kids put their jumpsuits on and became (juvenile detention facility) residents,” Stonehouse said.

Even with pay increases and bonuses, the county says current staffers are leaving due to burnout or moving to other county departments.

“They're going to the appraiser's office, they're going to finance, they're going to different places within the county. So these tend to be our more tenured staff,” Stonehouse said.

“So we have the churning … in the lower levels of people [that are] here a year, six months, whatever. And now higher level folks are leaving, too. So it's unprecedented what we're looking at.”

The news surprised county commissioners when they were told last week – including Commissioner Jim Howell.

“This is another example of where we're not actually effectively solving the problems,” Howell said.

“We’re simply, because of money, backing away from any type of effective program that actually helps these kids not reoffend and not become issues in the community and not end up in a penitentiary in the future.”

A report by the countyshowed that only 1 percent of youth who were at the residential facility from 2015-19 were arrested for new crimes.

The closure comes as a community task force set up by the city of Wichita and Sedgwick Countypushed for a restorative justice program to keep youth out of jails. The task force was set up following the death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton in a county juvenile facility.

"While imperfect, this program was a step in the right direction toward a youth justice system focused on rehabilitation and healing over punishment," Marquetta Atkins with Progeny, a Kansas group focused on changing the juvenile justice system, said in a statement. Atkins was also a member of the community task force.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.