Douglas County Commission to consider changing oversight of probation program; review jail expansion plans

The Douglas County Commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission will consider a proposal Wednesday that would change who oversees parole officers assigned to the county’s most serious offenders.

The proposed recommendation, which would move Community Corrections from the direct supervision of the Douglas County District Court to a chain of command that reports to the County Commission, will be one of two topics on the County Commission’s agenda.

Commissioners will also receive plan revisions for the proposed expansion of the Douglas County Jail that they requested last month. Commissioners will consider both topics during a 6 p.m. meeting at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Robert Bieniecki, Douglas County criminal justice coordinator, first briefed commissioners about moving Community Corrections from the District Court at an October work session. Community Corrections provides intensive supervision of felons who are on probation. He told commissioners that Douglas County was the only county in the state in which county commissioners don’t provide direct oversight of local community corrections programs. He said that oversight was transferred to the District Court through a home rule resolution in 2000.

In making the case for the transfer, Bieniecki said the state required the 2000 home rule resolution to be amended in 2002 with the statement that the County Commission remained “ultimately responsible” for Community Corrections. The transfer would streamline its administration by removing the need to report to the District Court, as well as the County Commission and state, he said.

The 10 employees of Community Corrections support the transfer, which would make them eligible for compensation at the county’s pay rate. Before receiving a 2 percent raise in July, the state’s judicial employees had not received a pay increase in five years.

Although the employees are compensated at state court system rates, the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration does not recognize the county’s Community Corrections parole officers as state employees. Sarah Plinsky, assistant Douglas County administrator, told commissioners in October that the 10 employees were, therefore, not covered by state work-related liability insurance.

The county does maintain liability insurance on them, Plinsky said. They nonetheless have some liability exposure, because Community Corrections employees are trained in state policies and procedures, rather than those of the county as the county’s insurance policy requires, she said. The proposed change would eliminate that concern, she said.

Commissioners said at the October work session that the transfer “made sense,” but they wanted to hear the concerns of District Court Chief Judge Peggy Kittel and Douglas County District Court Clerk Linda Koester-Vogelsang, neither of whom could attend the work session. Koester-Vogelsang, Kittel and other judges will attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The county already has transferred supervision of a number of adult programs from Court Services and the District Court to Pam Weigand, director of Douglas County Youth Services. Those transfers were approved during the summer and occurred during paid leave of absence of Michelle Roberts, Douglas County chief court services officer. Neither Koester-Vogelsang and Lisa Taylor, a spokeswoman with the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration, would comment on the reason for Roberts’ leave of absence.

The programs transferred from court services to Weigand’s supervision are adult pretrial release, home arrest and behavioral health court support. The county has introduced the three programs in the past year as part of its effort to reduce the number of people who need to be housed in the Douglas County Jail. Weigand, who reports to the Douglas County Commission and County Administrator Craig Weinaug, also oversees juvenile justice programs for intake, detention, probation, truancy and day school.

Commissioners to review jail expansion plans

The jail expansion discussion is a continuation of Undersheriff Gary Bunting’s Nov. 9 presentation to commissioners. At that time, Bunting said the sheriff’s office was recommending the county move forward with a $46 million jail expansion design, which was the most expensive of three options that Treanor Architects had developed. That option would more than double the number of beds at the facility, adding 207 beds to the jail’s current 186.

However, County Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said the starting point for the new jail design was a future jail population study conducted by criminal justice consultant Allen Beck. That study was the basis for two alternative designs, which the commission has been collectively referring to as Plan B: one that would add 131 beds at a cost of $37.4 million, and another that would add 150 beds at a cost of $40.8 million.

Commissioners requested that Treanor Architects make modifications to the design to the $40.8 million alternative to include a separate special populations pod for female inmates with mental health issues. Although there is such a pod for male inmates in the $40.8 million design, female inmates with mental health concerns would be housed in the minimum-security pod.