Archive for Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail

July 26, 2017

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After learning Wednesday of a new issue that has the county jail occasionally housing more inmates than its 186-bed capacity, Douglas County commissioners agreed a report on future jail population numbers should be shared with architects so they can update jail expansion plans.

Commissioners listened to Kansas City, Mo., consultant Allen Beck share details of his jail population forecast report before they agreed the report should be forwarded to Treanor Architects. That would be done so the firm could use the findings to update a conceptual expansion design the firm shared with commissioners in January 2016, County Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said.

Beck was hired in February for $5,000 a month to complete the study, which found that the county’s population growth is driving an increase in the jail’s population. Beck found that the jail would need 241 beds in 2020 and 300 by 2040.

Several members of the interfaith activist group Justice Matters at the meeting opposed further work on the jail design out of concern Beck’s conclusions were premature because he only studied the impact of a single initiative meant to reduce the jail’s population.

At the meeting, Beck defended the report’s focus on the pretrial release program because it made the biggest reduction in jail population numbers. He found the program would divert 56 inmates from the jail this year, a number which would rise to 73 by 2040.

“You’ve identified the big chunk,” he said. “The rest will give you smaller numbers.”

Beck said he studied the pretrial release program because he had data on which to base conclusions. That wasn’t the case with more recent initiatives, such as the post-conviction house arrest program, he said. There were still a number of unknown factors, such as the willingness of judges, defense attorneys or prosecutors to make use of the program. That uncertainty made it difficult to estimate its outcomes, he said.

As for the behavioral health court introduced in Douglas County District Court this year or the future mental health crisis intervention center, Beck said the available data suggested they would not significantly decrease the inmate population. The behavioral health court was only serving eight people, and Johnson County was only diverting four inmates a month from its jail to its mental health facility, he said.

The county’s incarceration rate of 163.6 inmates per 100,000 residents in 2014 was lower than the national and state rates and those of the five largest counties in Kansas, six counties of similar size in neighboring or nearby states and four counties of similar size with universities, Beck said.

“You might come to the reasonable assumption you are doing a lot of things right,” he said.

Because of the county’s past efforts to reduce its jail population, new programs would have diminished results because they would often simply “shuffle” inmates from an existing program into a new one, Beck said.

Brent Hoffman was one of three Justice Matters members to question Beck’s approach. Hoffman said the study should consider the county's attempts to speed up criminal proceedings in Douglas County District Court to reduce the time offenders spend in jail awaiting trial. He said Beck's report did not take into account the second pro-tem judge position the County Commission has agreed to fund for 2018.

The report also should have studied the consequences of the $1.98 million in new behavioral programming the County Commission agreed to fund in 2018, Hoffman said.

“The scope of the study was limited,” he said. “It wasn’t enough.”

But new information Undersheriff Gary Bunting shared at the meeting provided urgency for commissioners to move the jail expansion design forward.

Bunting said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has been forced on a number of occasions in recent months to house more inmates than the jail’s capacity because of difficulties in placing inmates in out-of-county jails.

The county continues to experience greater challenges in finding beds for its overflow inmate population in other counties, Bunting said. Compounding that problem recently is the inability to place inmates other counties have accepted because those inmates have impending court dates, he said.

“We’ve had occasions when there were no beds available,” he said. “We’ve had inmates on the floor on mattresses and multiple people in the same cell. We’ve held people in booking instead of moving them to housing units.”

Gaughan said the new information highlighted the need to make the jail safer for staff and inmates.

The conceptual design Treanor shared of the jail’s expansion in January 2016 would provide an additional 120 beds at the estimated cost of $30 million. That bed total is close to the 300 beds that Beck said the county would need by 2040. However, Beck suggested significant changes in how those beds should be allocated. For example, Beck found more beds would be needed for male minimum- and maximum security pods and fewer beds would be needed for female inmates.

Bunting said jail staff was involved in Beck’s study and concurred with its findings.

Moving forward with the jail expansion design would not stop the county from exploring new programs to reduce inmate numbers, Gaughan said

“We need to do both,” he said. “We have to continue to be aggressive in finding alternatives to incarceration, but we also have to provide an adequate facility for the safety of our jail staff and inmates.”

Contact Douglas County reporter Elvyn Jones
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Comments

Ryan Hickman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Elvyn,

I am confident that neither Brent Hoffman, nor any member of Justice Matters is seeking to reduce the time violent offenders spend in jail awaiting trial. I am also confident that you misquoted Brent. Please correct it and issue an apology. It is very misleading and an incredible error.

Chad Lawhorn 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Hi Ryan: I don’t think your assumption is accurate. We’ve checked with the reporter, Elvyn Jones, and he stands by the report. The idea of violent offenders spending less time in jail awaiting trail is consistent with what I have heard Justice Matters advocate for, and it is consistent with the position I’ve heard the County Commission take. The idea is that if you can reduce the amount of time an offender spends sitting in the Douglas County jail waiting for his/her trail to begin — say that time drops from 100 days to 50 days — you have reduced the capacity pressures on the jail. It in no way is saying that violent offenders should be on the streets rather than in jails. In the case of violent offenders who are convicted, they most often do not serve their sentences in the Douglas County jail, but rather in a state-operated prison. The County Commission tentatively has agreed to add another pro-tem judge to the local court system to help reduce the time it takes to move someone through the court system, and thus out of the Douglas County Jail and into another facility, if convicted. I hope that helps. Thanks, Chad Lawhorn, Editor.

Ryan Hickman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Chad,

I see that the word "violent" was removed from before offenders. So, my assumption was accurate and Elvyn changed the article to more accurately reflect the position of Brent and Justice Matters. I appreciate the change being made.

If Elvyn would have stated that the Douglas County Commission wants to "reduce the time violent offenders spend in jail awaiting trial" without a clarification of what that means. I'm sure the Commission would have asked for clarification. Rather, he quoted a member of Justice Matters and potentially made it look like the organization was supporting "violent offenders" spending less time awaiting trial, rather than all offenders. It was misleading at best. Your clarification is helpful.

I agree that it will prove helpful to have another pro-tem judge to speed up the process for all offenders which will be a positive step for reducing jail population and granting speedy trials (a constitutional right). This is a step in the right direction that was suggested by Justice Matters and recently funded by our Commission.

Francis Hunt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"This is a step in the right direction that was suggested by Justice Matters..." more justice matters arrogance taking credit for something. Talk of an additional judge was happening before justice matters existed.

A pro tem won't necessarily speed up the process for ALL offenders, the pro tem may take some pressure off of the judges case loads but a pro tem can only hear certain cases.

Brent Hoffman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Francis, I was at the County Commission meeting - were you? Didn't think so. You just make assumptions and criticize people from behind your computer and troll folks that actually show up and listen to what is really going on. I normally don't respond to people like you, but just this once....

During my public comment, not only did I NOT take credit for anything on my behalf or on behalf of Justice Matters - I actually expressed gratitude and gave credit to the County Commission for all that they are doing in the 2018 County budget related to increasing efficiencies in our criminal justice system (like adding a pro-tem judge) and allocating resources into mental health and behavioral health services outside of the jail.

Justice Matters is not interested in who gets credit. Justice Matters is interested in seeing our town and county serve EVERYONE, especially those of us who don't have a voice.

All the best.

Francis Hunt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Relax Brent Hoffman, I was replying to the quote by Ryan Hickman who in his previous comment said "This is a step in the right direction that was suggested by Justice Matters..." I was not talking to or even about you in my comment.

To quote you, "I normally don't respond to people like you, but just this once..." You should take a deep breath and ask yourself WWJD next time you stoop to my level and respond to people like me.

Denis Rader 4 months, 2 weeks ago

There is no reason why they can't double bunk the cells in the medium security pod. Almost every county jail in the nation does. Who ever runs that jail needs to be replaced.

Bob Smith 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Best not to be a miscreant and get locked up in the first place.

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