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Sedgwick County implements changes at juvenile facility ahead of task force meeting

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KMUW/File Photo

Some facility and policy changes are already underway at the Sedgwick County Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center without recommendations from a newly formed task force.

Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz confirmed that the county has implemented changes in how its juvenile facilities will handle mental health cases.

“A summary of that is being prepared and should be ready to present at the task force meeting on Thursday night,” Stolz said in an email.

A joint task force was created by the city of Wichita and the county to review the circumstances around Cedric Lofton’s death and to recommend policy changes.

Lofton, 17, died in September after being taken to the county's facility during a mental health crisis after his guardian called 911. District Attorney Marc Bennett decided to not press charges last month in the teen’s death.

The county's new policy states that any juvenile who arrives in a WRAP device will have to receive a mental health evaluation. Lofton was in such a device when police dropped him off at the center.

As of Jan. 19, the county’s policy for the juvenile intake center said that juveniles coming into the center who are going through a mental health crisis should not be taken into detention. That’s according to emails obtained by KMUW.

Before juveniles are taken in to the county facility, a law enforcement officer must fill out an intake form that states they are no signs of physical harm, illness, intoxication, or mental health problems. That form was signed for Lofton before he was taken in for assessment.

In December, the form was revised to include whether a WRAP device was used during or after an arrest.

The Wichita Police Department began use of the WRAP device during the summer of 2020, according to Commissioner Jim Howell.

In a 2016 report written after a visit to the center, the Kansas Department of Corrections noted that there were too many juveniles being transferred to the detention facility during a mental health crisis.

“… in some cases detention likely is being used as a means to control juveniles – work with partners to reduce/eliminate that practice,” the report reads.

The summary also noted that support was needed to get faster responses for mental health cases and that the county was interested in training from KDOC on de-escalation techniques.

Howell and Commissioner Lacey Cruse have called for some changes to be made at the county facility without waiting for recommendations from the task force.

“If there’s a policy that we need to change, we’re not going to wait until … the task force is done in three months,” Cruse said. “If there are things we can change now, we need to do that.”

But Howell said not all commissioners were in agreement.

“I mentioned to one of my colleagues some of these ideas that I think we need to go ahead and lean forward and do what I consider to be low hanging fruit, and their response was they didn’t want to because they wanted to wait for the task force to do the work,” Howell said.

Facility additions

The county also has made a request for bids to add audio to the video recording system at the juvenile detention facility, and the intake and assessment center, according to the county manager.

Lofton’s struggle with employees at the center was caught on videotape, but there was no sound.

“That would’ve been a pretty nice detail to know what was being said,” Cruse said.

Bennett also recommended that audio be added to the system in a report following his investigation of Lofton’s death.

The county is also looking into purchasing at least one automated external defibrillator (AED) for the same facility. An AED was not available at the time of Lofton’s death, a report done by Bennett noted.

“That was an oversight in my opinion, I don’t know why there wasn’t one there,” Howell said.