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Sedgwick County proposes $22 million for new juvenile corrections services building

The Juvenile Residential Facility sits on Minnesota Street, just south of Kellogg and west of I-135.
Celia Hack
/
KMUW
The Juvenile Residential Facility sits on Minnesota Street, just south of Kellogg and west of I-135.

The building would include the Juvenile Residential Facility, which is less restrictive than the Juvenile Detention Facility, and several other alternatives to detention.

The budget Sedgwick County commissioners will vote on Wednesday includes $22.1 million in its capital improvement plan for a new juvenile community-based services building.

The new building would hold the dorm-like Juvenile Residential Facility, which courts can recommend for young people in corrections instead of the more-restrictive Juvenile Detention Facility.

It would also house other alternatives to detention, including a day program for young people in corrections, and a probation and parole program called Juvenile Field Services. Juvenile Field Services is currently located near Harry and Hillside, about two miles away from most other juvenile corrections facilities that are just south of Hydraulic and Kellogg.

“We learned during COVID that having programs so far apart does not help us maximize staffing,” said Steven Stonehouse, Sedgwick County’s director of corrections. “So we started talking about what would it look like to have a one-stop shop to put everything onto this campus.”

Renderings of the proposed new juvenile community-based services building, which would combine many alternatives to detention for young people in corrections.
Celia Hack
/
KMUW
Renderings of the proposed new juvenile community-based services building, which would combine many alternatives to detention for young people in corrections.

Short staffing has historically stymied the Juvenile Residential Facility, known as JRF. The building closed in April 2022 because of a lack of staffing. It reopened in May 2023, but the 24-bed facility is currently only staffed to house seven kids.

That means kids who could be in a less-restrictive environment end up in detention – typically against a judge’s wishes. The waiting list for the residential facility reached 14 in the past year, Stonehouse said.

A window in the Juvenile Residential Facility is covered in Dr. Seuss-themed stickers.
Celia Hack
/
KMUW
A window in the Juvenile Residential Facility is covered in Dr. Seuss-themed stickers.

That’s a detriment to those kids, said Yusef Presley, a youth advocate who spent time in both facilities as a teenager.

“In JRF, you have the ability to go to school and interact with your peers that you otherwise wouldn’t get to interact with,” Presley said. “As an incarcerated kid, when you get that little taste of freedom, it makes you straighten up – let me straighten up my behavior because this is what I’ve been missing out on.”

Stonehouse said staffing efficiencies in the new building will mean that all 24 beds in the JRF will be able to be utilized. The new building would also create a space for day programs like boys’ and girls’ groups or anger management classes. These classes currently take up rooms at the JRF that could be used to house eight kids.

Presley said if a new building will open up more beds in the JRF, he’s all for it.

“This is showing the kids that, ‘Hey we believe in you, we’re going to work with you, we don’t want to incarcerate you,’” Presley said. “‘We want to get you back in the community, and we want to work with you and give you life skills and things like that.’”

Presley served on a city and county task force formed last year to recommend changes to the youth corrections system, including the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections. The task force followed the 2021 death of 17-year-old Cedric Lofton. Lofton died after being restrained face down by Sedgwick County juvenile corrections staff at a facility called JIAC, the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center.

“The task force looking into Cedric Lofton situation … they were talking with JIAC about making the environment softer,” Stonehouse said. “Looking at quiet rooms, painting murals, things like that. That is making a hard facility try to be more trauma-informed.”

JIAC is separate from the proposed juvenile community services building. But Stonehouse said he wants to design the new facility with those elements in mind: softer, with more lights and windows.

An unoccupied room in the Juvenile Residential Facility.
Celia Hack
/
KMUW
An unoccupied room in the Juvenile Residential Facility.

The JRF was built in 1994. Corrections leaders have been seeking money to remodel the JRF since 2019. A few requests included adding an enlarged lobby with a walk-through scanner, private family visitation rooms, a sensory mental health room and a separate employee entrance.

“The current building is inefficient and does not allow for flexible staffing or living units appropriate for young people,” according to the county’s 2024 budget.

But the $1.1 million remodel was put on a watch list without further progress.

This year, county officials are preparing for the Juvenile Field Services’ lease to end in 2024. Some saw an opportunity to consolidate all juvenile corrections programs in one place.

“The long and short of this is the Juvenile Residential Facility is inadequate, and we’re getting booted out of Juvenile Field Services,” said county manager Tom Stolz in a May meeting. “That’s what’s driving this. … If we want a consolidated campus, which I understand the rationale for that, the only option is to build.”

The proposed campus would be built on the current JRF site just south of Hydraulic and Kellogg. Stonehouse hopes to house kids from the JRF temporarily in the Juvenile Detention Facility during construction.

The library at the JRF is located in a hallway.
Celia Hack
The library at the JRF is located in a hallway.

In a May meeting, county commissioner Jim Howell requested to see alternatives to new construction because of the hefty price tag.

“I think this may be more about staff than it is about what’s best for the kids,” Howell said in an interview. “... We save some money by using the same staff for both. I’m not sure that’s what I want.”

County officials estimated the cheapest alternative would cost about $13.4 million, which would include remodeling the JRF and obtaining a 10-year lease for Juvenile Field Services.

Howell supports remodeling JRF for security reasons but said he doesn’t think the roughly 30-year-old building needs to be completely bulldozed. He added that he would like to locate the JFS program separate from other correctional facilities to keep kids at different offender levels from interacting.

“I don’t know if I like mingling the two together,” Howell said. He added that he would prefer to locate JFS in an area that will keep kids busy – with restaurants, job opportunities, shopping – instead of moving it to JRF’s location, which is more residential.

“But here’s the thing: I support investing in these kids, and this is the only proposal we have right now. So I’d probably lean in favor of supporting it,” he added.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.