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Sedgwick County Sheriff Needs $2.6M To Keep Up With Growing Inmate Population

Tex Texin
flickr Creative Commons

Crime-fighting efforts in Wichita drained the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s budget this year and pushed the county jail beyond capacity.

Sheriff Jeff Easter says the county jail population is at its highest level in 10 years. The jail houses an average of about 1,510 inmates each day; capacity is 1,158 inmates.

With more inmates, the county has higher food, medical and staffing costs. Easter requested additional funding from county commissioners on Wednesday.

They approved $2.6 million to help the Sheriff’s Office budget make it through the end of the year.

Easter says a rise in violent crime last year and a higher number of arrests this year contributed to the jail overcrowding.

"We have a backlog of those inmates who haven’t gone to trial yet," Easter said, "and then we have spikes this year again in violent crime, which means those folks are sitting with us as well."

He says about 68% of jail inmates are being held on violent felony charges — 72 are accused of murder.

The jail population increased this summer following a two-month violent crime crackdown. The Wichita Police Department worked with federal, state and local agencies to make more than 900 arrests. A majority of the suspects ended up in the county jail.

Easter says those operations are making a difference, but he would like to see federal assistance for agencies that handle the aftermath of crime-fighting efforts.

"They’re giving money upfront, mainly for the police department because of the violent crime problem, but there’s nothing on the back end," Easter said. "The back end is the jail, the district attorney’s office, the forensics laboratory because they have to test a lot of these pieces of evidence that come in on these cases."

The sheriff says he’s going to start looking at federal grants or other funding sources that could help the jail overcrowding and court backlog issues.

Easter says methamphetamine use continues to drive most crime in Sedgwick County.

"Until we can get a handle on the methamphetamine use," he said, "I don’t see this really ending anytime soon."

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.