County’s criminal justice coordinator says Community Corrections oversight change improves efficiency, good for employees

Douglas County’s criminal justice coordinator told county commissioners Wednesday that returning Community Corrections back to their oversight would create a more streamlined organizational structure, give the department’s employees a pay hike and provide more flexibility for staff training.

In a presentation to commissioners, Robert Bieniecki, Douglas County criminal justice coordinator, proposed that the commission take over Community Corrections oversight from the Douglas County District Court at the start of 2018. Douglas County is the only county in the state in which the county commission doesn’t directly oversee community corrections, he said. A past county commission approved a home rule resolution that transferred oversight to the district court subsequent to a 1989 state law mandating all counties have community corrections departments, he said.

Bieniecki said all 10 Community Corrections employees support the transfer, and it had the unanimous endorsement of the Community Corrections Advisory Board. Douglas County Chief Judge Peggy Kittel and Linda Koester-Vogelsang, administrative clerk of the district court, were out of town and unable to attend the work session.

Community corrections departments are charged with providing “intensive” probation supervision of convicted felons, who would otherwise be confined in county jails or state correctional facilities, Bieniecki said. The state funds the programs through yearly block grants to counties, which Douglas County annually supplements, he said.

Despite the District Court’s oversight, the county commission still has ultimate responsibility for Community Corrections under state law, Bieniecki said. Because of that, Community Corrections currently reports to the district court, the County Commission and the Kansas Department of Corrections, he said. Returning oversight to the County Commission would streamline the reporting process, he said.

Bieniecki proposed Community Corrections become part of the newly created Douglas County Corrections and Pretrial Services, which Pam Weigand, director of Douglas County Youth Services, will oversee. Douglas County Youth Services provides the same intensive probation supervision for juveniles that Community Corrections provides for adults, he said. Weigand already supervises other programs created in the last year to divert inmates from the county jail, including the pretrial release program, the post-conviction home-arrest program and the Behavioral Health Court.

The move would allow Community Corrections more flexibility in coordinating training with the new county initiatives and jail programs, Bieniecki said.

Because the district court oversees Community Corrections, its 10 employees are compensated through the state’s pay scale for judicial employees, Bieniecki said. Before receiving a 2 percent raise in July, the state’s judicial employees had not received a pay increase in 5 years. With the transfer, they would receive county pay-rate compensation and be eligible for longevity raises, he said. It would cost the county $7,000 annually to fold the department’s employees into the county’s pay scale, he said.

The Community Corrections employees would remain in their offices at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, Bieniecki said.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said at the end of the presentation that Bieniecki’s proposal “made sense.” However, commissioners agreed they wanted to hear from Kittel and Koester-Vogelsang before taking any action on the transfer.