Letter to the editor: Costly legal practices

To the editor:

Thank you for your recent article presenting the ACLU’s findings that prosecutors who seek convictions for nonviolent crime instead of diversions leave Kansas taxpayers with a substantial bill. We the public have to finance the incarceration of individuals who could have been rehabilitated through the terms of a much less costly diversion agreement.

Granting diversions, however, isn’t just about reducing jail populations. There is a real cost to taxpayers for convicting individuals of felonies even when they are not incarcerated. For example, when a college student with no prior record sells marijuana, he or she will not be offered a diversion by the local prosecutor’s office. Instead he or she will likely be offered a deal where he or she will not be incarcerated, but will be saddled with a felony conviction that will prevent him or her from voting and being employed to his or her potential upon graduation. The person will be on probation for one or two years (which of course costs the taxpayers) and then will probably work in low-wage jobs for a few years until the felony conviction can be expunged. Seeking convictions for nonviolent crimes such as these does not help keep our community safe, and it costs our community in many ways other than the costs of incarceration.

If instead, these people were offered a diversion agreement, they could be ordered to pay fines and court costs, attend counseling where they could learn to channel their entrepreneurial spirit in a more law-abiding manner, and they could be ordered to perform community service work to help others — the same terms that would be imposed as part of their probation if convicted of the same crime. If they successfully complete the diversion agreement, they could graduate from college, get a good job and add to the tax base. If they don’t complete all terms of their diversion agreement, they will end up with a felony conviction. How does our community benefit by a nonviolent person not being offered the chance to change his or her behavior before being branded a felon?