Juvenile Detention Reform History

History of Juvenile Justice Reform in Sedgwick County

Located in south-central Kansas, Sedgwick County is the second most populous of all 105 Kansas counties. The United States Census (2012) estimates more than 503,000 residents of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds reside within the county. The City of Wichita is the largest city in Sedgwick County, as well as the entire State of Kansas, with over 382,000 residents. By Kansas statutes youth at-risk for juvenile detention are ages 10 to 17. The at-risk population numbered 58,107 in 2013 and has slightly increased over the last five years. The racial and ethnic composition of the population has steadily become more diverse and in 2013 was 62.7% White and 37.3% Minority (19.4% Hispanic, 12.1% African American, 4.5% Asian, and 1.3% American Indian).

Sedgwick County built their first juvenile detention facility and adjoining juvenile court building in the mid-1970s. The juvenile campus was located in a residential neighborhood in an entirely different area from the adult jail and courthouse. The facility was named the Evaluation and Referral Center and the design was tailored to better address the needs of developing youth. It was state of the art with a focus on rehabilitation. This was done at the same time the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act was being implemented to remove youth from adult jails. Prior to this change, youth were detained on the 8th floor of the adult jail in cells designed for adults with little space for education, classes, programming or recreational activities.

By 1990 demand for locked detention exceeded the 33-bed facility capacity and the pressures of overcrowding began. Studies were done to project future demand and to profile the detention population and detainment practices. Local planners embraced an emerging reform strategy to establish detention alternatives before expanding the locked facility. The first alternative was Home Based Supervision that opened in 1990 followed in 1994 with a staff-secure coed shelter named the Juvenile Residential Facility.

The Home Based Supervision program began with one supervising officer who screened detained youth and coordinated referrals with the juvenile court judges. All youth selected for this program required authorization for release from detention by the Juvenile Court and were supervised in their own homes under a strict contract signed by the parent, youth and supervisor. In 1994, an option was added to increase the numbers of youth approved for admission by adding electronic monitoring/house arrest. The program has been very successful and has grown to employ four supervision officers, with one required to be bilingual in Spanish and English. The program serves over 200 youth annually that would otherwise be detained with an average daily population of 27, a success rate of 80% and average cost of $18/day (2009-2014).

The Juvenile Residential Facility was constructed on the juvenile campus and opened in 1994. Eligible youth come from the juvenile detention facility with authorization by the Juvenile Court. The facility opened with a capacity of 21and later increased to 24. The facility was designed for youth that are detained pending hearings that are not public safety risks but they cannot go home. Many of the eligible youth are young and home is not an option because of the situation of their parent or the nature of their alleged offense. All youth attend school in the community and ride the bus each morning. The facility serves over 300 youth annually, with an average daily population of 19, a success rate of 84% and average cost of $170.25/day (2009-2014).

By 1994 these programs provided the Juvenile Court with a continuum of less costly options for use during the detention process. Unfortunately, demand for detention services rose significantly from 1993-95 due to an increase in gang violence in the community. The average daily population jumped from 46 in 1993 to 71 and 108 the next two years. The Juvenile Detention Facility became severely overcrowded with dangerous youth from rival gangs. The 33-bed detention facility reached populations as high as 76. Several serious incidents and disturbances resulted in staff and youth injuries and brought negative media attention to the County. At that time there were no available detention beds in Kansas. In September 1995 a private detention facility opened in Topeka, Kansas. The County immediately began contracting for offsite housing to address the overflow which helped staff bring order to the facility.

In 1996 the County was cited for overcrowding at the detention facility by the licensing authority, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. This resulted in a voluntary consent agreement between the State and County placing limits on the number of youth detained and prescribing a comprehensive planning and decision process to address the short and long-term detention needs in Sedgwick County. As part of this process, a policy team composed of local stakeholders and a professor in criminal justice from Wichita State University was established to oversee the detention continuum and resources. This team was named the Detention Utilization Committee (DUC). An Operations Committee was also established to review youth in the detention continuum to facilitate movement and ensure no youth fell between the cracks spending more time than necessary in detention. The policy team has met monthly and the operations team weekly since 1996. This model has worked extremely well in managing the population and making improvements to the system.

One early and important system improvement was the design and implementation of an objective risk screening instrument in 1997. The screening tool was called the Juvenile Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (JDRA). It was developed in consultation with Wichita State University by the Detention Utilization Committee. Validation studies were done in 1997 and 2010 to ensure the right youth were being held for a detention hearing versus being released to their parent. The County has realized substantial savings from the combined impacts of the alternatives and the risk screening instrument that have consistently diverted 40% of detention days.

The next improvement was implementation in 2000 of a Detention Advocacy Service (DAS) program focused on reducing the daily population and the overrepresentation of minority youth held in detention. The program strategy was designed by a community planning team to provide specialized legal defense, advocacy and case management services to minority and low-income youth in detention and pending a detention hearing. A contract was developed with Kansas Legal Services to provide legal representation and case management supervision as a defense team to advocate for detained youth to be released on bonds or moved to one of the alternatives. The case management supervision alternative is far less intensive than the Home Based Supervision program. The Detention Advocacy Service program serves 400 youth annually, 70% minority, with an average caseload of 30 supervised in the community, and a success rate of 80%. Youth receive continuity in legal representation at each stage as their case moves through the court process. This strategy combined with those previously discussed, increased the percentage of detention days diverted from 40% to 45% and helped to level the playing field for youth from low income families in the court process.

After implementing these alternatives and systems improvements Sedgwick County made the decision to replace the 35-year-old detention facility with a new 108-bed facility that opened in 2006. This brought an end to the practice of managing population overflow by sending Sedgwick County youth long distances from their parents and service providers for locked detention. At this point the terms of the voluntary consent agreement were satisfied and the regulatory case was closed. The new facility is staffed for 81 and has an average daily population of 61 (2009-2013). Each of the detention alternatives continues to be fully utilized and the popular belief that demand will increase by adding capacity has not occurred. The staff and policy team has continued to employ the same population management practices and philosophy of limiting use of locked detention for serious and violent youth.

In 2007, Sedgwick County was selected to participate in the Models for Change DMC Action Network Initiative funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Funding was provided for four years to expand work on system improvements to reduce minority overrepresentation across the juvenile justice system. Data collection was expanded and the African American community was organized and engaged with system stakeholders to understand and advocate for solutions. An African American Coalition was established to bring community voice to the local policy team. In the area of detention, data analysis revealed an increase in youth being admitted as a sanction for probation violations for school misbehavior and truancy. The issue was studied by the Detention Utilization Committee and in January 2010 a Weekend Alternative Detention Program was established. The non-residential program was modeled after an existing program in Tacoma, Washington. Youth are assigned by the Court to spend 6 hours Saturday and Sunday attending cognitive programming classes at the Juvenile Residential Facility, in lieu of a 7 day sanction in the detention facility. During the first year in operation 217 youth were served and 94% completed successfully. In 2014 the Weekend Alternative Program served 240 clients with an 87% successful completion rate. The number of admissions to secure detention for a sanction reduced 70% (from the 2009 baseline) to 78 admissions in 2014. Although the total number of admissions was reduced, the time spent in secure detention for sanctions increased. The two day curriculum is focused on teaching problem solving and decision-making skills to prevent future violations.

Senate Substitute for HB 2034 was enacted in January 2014. Among other changes, this bill introduced measures to increase identification of and services for child victims of human trafficking. Although this bill contemplates alternative placement options for these victims, secure detention is often the de facto placement for these individuals. Processes have been implemented to ensure continuity of treatment services for these individuals while they are detained. Sedgwick County initiated conversations and work groups on the state and local level to seek alternative settings to meet the needs of this vulnerable population.

Over the last two decades Sedgwick County has been progressive and made great strides in juvenile detention reform. However, this is an area where there is always more that needs to be done. Too many status offenders, mentally ill and youth from child welfare are held in detention through various legal means and due to a lack of adequate state and local alternatives. The numbers of youth being served in detention who are victims of human trafficking has grown to be overrepresented. Work on these issues and with JDAI will continue in 2015. A multi-disciplinary team was formed to address the issue of children in need of care (CINC) placed in secure detention. 2015 will serve as a time of implementation for this group's capstone project which seeks to reduce the number of CINC youth in secure detention.