Sedgwick Co. seeks to improve inmate mental health, lower population

Inside the Sedgwick County Detention Center, on any given day, it’s packed.

“Our average daily population is hovering right around 1,500 right now,” says Brenda Dietzman, Sedgwick County Undersheriff.

Dietzman says it’s just too many.

“I’d love to reduce the population. I would love to close down pods in our facility. That’s our goal,” says Dietzman.

Since 2001, they’ve housed inmates in 10 other jails across Kansas, which helps to slightly reduce that number.

“This year, it has hovered anywhere between 190 and 250,” she says.

Dietzman says the county has to fork over between $2 and $3 million per year to house those inmates elsewhere. That’s around $35 a day per inmate.

“Last year alone, we spent $2.4 million,” says Dietzman.

It’s not just hard on the budget.

“We want to keep people close to their families here in Wichita, but we just simply don’t have the space and so we have to do this,” explains Dietzman.

It has Dietzman and the sheriff wondering if there are better ways to reduce the population while also addressing an even bigger problem.

“The jail is not the place to get mental health help and that’s what it’s become.”

Dietzman says too many people with mental health issues are serving their time, but not actually getting better.

“There is a lot of people in jail that could help elsewhere and that is what we are exploring with our community partners and governmental entities to try and help that,” says Dietzman.

With some help, they’d like to create alternative re-entry programs to address an offender’s mental health issue and help get them back on their feet. Not back in jail.

“It is going to reduce our costs as taxpayers. It is going to be better for families. It is going to be better for people. Instead of being in jail, they can be out being productive member of society. And that is what we want.”

Dietzman says they are meeting with legislators in September to discuss solutions.

(Read more: KSN TV)