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Jail over capacity; inmates sleep on floor

Staff writer

The state fire marshal’s office said Tuesday that it was investigating a complaint filed against Marion County Jail, currently so crowded inmates are sleeping on the floor.

The jail has a capacity of 11 inmates. Monday, it was housing 15, and the sheriff’s office was adding three more Tuesday.

Brenda Reber, an inspector for the marshal’s office, said the state had received a complaint about the jail and an investigation was planned.

However, Sheriff Robert Craft said: “The fire code doesn’t necessarily deal with the number of people in the jail.”

The county jail committee had a plan to finance construction of a new jail by increasing property taxes, but the committee has been waiting for the attorney general’s office to issue an opinion on the legality of other possible taxes or fees. The committee has not met since November.

Jail complications

Having so many inmates in the jail has complicated the duties of the county’s only jailer, Larry Cushenbery.

Cushenbery was heading to Wichita Tuesday to pick up a female inmate, while another inmate was being booked. A third inmate from Larned was on the way.

Cushenbery oversees the daily lives of the inmates. He books them in, serves their meals, does their laundry, and keeps the peace.

“It’s like you’re running a day care,” he said. “The kid that is good today may be the kid that’s bad tomorrow.”

Excess inmates sleep on mats on the floor. The jail had one female inmate Monday, who had to have a separate cell, as required by state law. This further stressed the jail’s space limits. Craft said that two of the inmates being booked Tuesday were women, and the three women would share the same cell.

“I have no other options,” Craft said.

When the jail is overcrowded, Cushenbery said every activity takes longer because the inmates have to be separated into smaller groups.

For instance, Cushenbery could take a group of six inmates outside together for a half an hour. With 18 inmates, they have to be divided into separate groups he has to take outside, which can take more than an hour.

Cushenbery brings food to the inmates’ cells. In a normal situation, he might have the inmates get their own food, but with 18 inmates there is not enough room to serve all the inmates at once.

The increase in inmates heightens the potential for outbursts and violence in the jail.

“I dread dealing with all of them. They’re all a challenge,” Cushenbery said. “But, I don’t take it personal. If you take it personal this isn’t the job for you.”

Cushenbery is experienced in rolling with the punches. He retired from the Wichita Fire Department after 21 years, a job he says was an accident.

“I was literally filling out the police department form, but you only have to be 18 to be hired on at the fire department,” he said.

But, he still wanted to be a police officer. He applied for a job with the Marion County sheriff, but didn’t expect to be a jailer.

“I just kind of take life as it deals out,” Cushenbery said. “Some people say, ‘I want to be here in the next five years.’ I’m not like that.”

Last modified July 29, 2010

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