Archive for Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail

April 11, 2018


Rising jail populations among smaller jurisdictions such as Douglas County are contributing to mass incarceration in the United States, a spokeswoman for a national criminal justice policy organization said at a gathering Wednesday night.

Jasmine Heiss, director of outreach for In Our Backyards of the Vera Institute of Justice, spoke at Lawrence's Carnegie Building at the invitation of Justice Matters, Kansas Appleseed and the University of Kansas' Department of African and African-American Studies. Heiss said part of her role at the Vera Institute is advising municipalities like Douglas County on how to reduce the number of people they jail.

Justice Matters and Kansas Appleseed both oppose the half-cent sales tax that's been proposed as a funding source for an expansion of the Douglas County Jail. If voters approve it in this spring's referendum, the tax would fund the $44 million jail expansion as well as an $11 million behavioral health campus, and it would provide $5.1 million annually for expanded behavioral health services.

While incarceration rates in the nation’s largest cities are decreasing, Heiss said, smaller jurisdictions like Douglas County have seen increases in their jail populations over the past 45 years. Heiss said one of her group's goals is to combat that trend.

Douglas County’s incarceration rate is lower than state and national averages, Heiss acknowledged.

According to Douglas County Undersheriff Gary Bunting, the county currently incarcerates about 1.85 people per 1,000 residents, and the Prison Policy Initiative think tank has reported that in 2016, the national incarceration rate was 6.93 and the statewide rate was 6.96.

Nonetheless, Heiss said the county was trending in the wrong direction. She added that the jail issue shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, but should be interpreted as part of the national issue of mass incarceration.

“Jails are mass incarceration’s front door,” she said. “You can’t pull individual systems out of the larger problem.”

Heiss argued that evidence from other counties indicated an expanded jail would only be a stopgap measure and wouldn't solve the underlying problems driving the overcrowding. She said that although the county has been successful in diverting inmates from the jail, it needs to address its overcrowding issue more comprehensively. She said that should include a look at law enforcement contacts that lead to arrests and ways to speed up court procedures so that inmates spend less time behind bars waiting for their cases to be resolved.

The county should also examine why people of color are incarcerated at a much greater rate than their percentage of the county’s population, Heiss said.

“Across the county, they are about 3.5 times as likely to be incarcerated (as) white people,” she said.

Douglas County Jail data shows that in 2016, black inmates accounted for 15.3 percent of the jail’s population and Native Americans made up 5.4 percent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, blacks make up 4.6 percent of the county’s population and Native Americans make up 2.7 percent.

The money the county would spend on the jail expansion could be used more effectively on programs that would keep people out of jail, such as employment training and mental health and substance abuse programs, Heiss said.

In a phone interview with the Journal-World on Wednesday, Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said the proposed half-cent sales tax, if approved, would provide sustainable funding for the additional substance abuse and mental health programing Heiss advocated for.

“More than half the revenue the sales tax would raise would be used for behavioral health,” she said.

However, Thellman rejected the view that mass incarceration was an issue in the county, citing the county's low incarceration rate when compared to state and national averages.

“It sounds to me as confirmation that referendum opponents are using the national mass incarceration problem to hijack a local jail issue,” she said. “We do not have mass incarceration in Douglas County. It would be great to focus on the needs of Douglas County on this very important issue.”

More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• May 14, 2018 — County clerk reports that about 40 percent of Proposition 1 ballots have been returned by eve of deadline

• May 9 — Latest debate in sales tax election: How far can the county go in pushing for a ‘yes’ vote?

• May 8 — Proposition 1 brochures removed from County Treasurer’s Office counter after citizen complains

• May 7 — Proposition 1 ballots coming in at ‘impressive’ rate; county clerk says turnout could exceed 45 percent

• April 30 — Jail referendum fact check: A look at what both sides aren’t saying about the heated campaign

• April 30 — Midcase mental health evaluations for Douglas County jail inmates have increased

• April 30 — How much is violent crime up in Douglas County? Either a lot or very little, depending on which statistics you look at

• April 24 — A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion

• April 23 — Americans for Prosperity campaigning against sales tax in county referendum

• April 22 — At forum, Douglas County commissioner explains 'what if' option if sales tax referendum fails

• April 22 — Get ready to vote: Questions and answers on the Douglas County half-cent sales tax ballot question

• April 22 — 4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents

• April 20 — County says Justice Matters using wrong law to try to force mental health vote; group plans to start petition drive on Saturday

• April 18 — Douglas County leaders learn about first participant in diversion program for female inmates; Thellman cites Constitution on jail expansion issue

• April 17 — Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017 to reverse 5-year trend

• April 17 — Douglas County counselor: Meeting with Justice Matters about proposed petition would not be appropriate

• April 17 — Despite campaign literature to the contrary, county officials confirm there’s no legal finding that Douglas County Jail must be expanded

• April 16 — Douglas County legal counselor finds proposed Justice Matters petition legally invalid, but group says it can be fixed

• April 16 — What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour

• April 15 — Speakers at criminal justice, behavioral health forum look beyond jail expansion, crisis center

• April 14 — County-funded training expands number of peer-support specialists to share ‘been there, got better’ message

• April 11 — Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem

• April 9 — Douglas County Commission may be forced to put new mental health, tax plan on November ballot

• March 25 — Increasing population at Douglas County jail at odds with national trend

• March 22 — Advocacy group forms to support county referendum on jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• March 21 — Douglas County District Court chief judge defends court’s processes, agrees serious felony crime is increasing

• March 12 — County’s pretrial release, home-arrest programs diverting large numbers from jail, but not enough to prevent overcrowding

• March 11 — DA was more likely to grant a diversion in 2017, but number of people seeking them declined

• March 6 — Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offering jail tours, presentations in advance of spring referendum

• March 5 — Online behavioral health care site available free to county residents pending referendum outcome

• March 4 — Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says

• March 3 — Activist groups kick off their campaign against jail expansion

• March 1 — Town Talk: Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion

• Feb. 21 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says

• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says

• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax

• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them

• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax

• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus

• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding

• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question

• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there

• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court

• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually

• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County

• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health

• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot

• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming

• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery

• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH

• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan

• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design

• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds

• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say

• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars

• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects

• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget

• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests

• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority


John McDermott 1 month, 2 weeks ago

“We don’t have mass incarceration in Douglas County”, and by the way, isn’t that an elegant suit the Emporer is wearing.

Richard Quinlan 1 month, 1 week ago

I believe that police and victims think not enough are under supervision at this point in time given the rampant property crimes logged each day in Lawrence combined with victim assault incidents which we have never seen in Lawrence. One can point to economic , education , groups moving in and bringing their crime background with them. To deny that offenders need to be locked up is absolute stupidity. It is the responsibility of the city / county to protect citizens from idiots. While this populist movement seems to have a solution for every town it doesnt fit here. We already have courts that are extremely lenient and will bond out OR most anyone. Seriously they don't want you in jail. The biggest issue in Douglas County is the amount of debt you will incur in our local justice system. Thousands of dollars in evaluation fees , court costs , probation fees , treatment , levied on offenders that have little to nothing in resources. It's kinder and gentler supposedly. We obviously need a larger jail , mental health screening and treatment center locally. Get on with it.

Deborah Snyder 1 month, 1 week ago

What I cannot seem to get across to Ms. Thellman (who I have great admiration for, btw) is that the Cart is in front of the Horse on this avoidable crisis.

For close to Two Decades, county officials were aware district case loads were backing up, jailed minorities were piling up, and mental health, community services and social services were either being killed or were already dead through state funding, and neither she nor any other county rep were willing to step up to offer the services they are (suddenly) touting on this poison-pill-ballot.

Politics? Hubris? Johnson County learned (to its regret) that more expensive jail cells wasn't the answer! How can this county commission ignore that evidence? How is it that the county cannot continue to transfer its prisoners until they implement what Ms. Thellman claims is an advanced mental health proposal?

No one (whom I know) is denigrating the portion of this ballot suddenly offering the services we need to start the process of rehabiliting our dead community mental health system.

To offer it only as a backhanded sop to the irreversible and forever more annual expense to all, and worse, through a proven-way-to-hurt-the-working-poor, regressive sales tax with no exemption on food, is selfishly reprehensible at best, and criminal amorality at worst. It is completely contrary to any proclaimed progressive community.

This county commission has done a complete disservice to its vulnerable population over the last twenty (20) years. To pit property owners against consumers via its draconian predictions is dishonest and manipulative.

I thought our county leaders and representatives better than this.

Calvin Anders 1 month, 1 week ago

Finally a little coverage of the other side of this issue. The barrage of officials and judges and other advocates for jail expansion was getting pretty one sided. And they all had the same tired talking points. They all just used their very narrow, very carefully worded and curated statistics to push the narrative that there is an ever increasing population of dangerous thugs waiting in the night to kill us all. Ms. Heiss proves to be an excellent spokesperson for the opinion that our system of mass incarceration is out of control. The culture of our legal system has become one of industrial warehousing of people. It's a system rife with grift and cruelty. But rather than acknowledge any issue with the fact that our country locks up far more of it's citizens than any other industrialized nation, many bureaucrats find it easier and in some cases more profitable to focus on stupid, misleading arguments to perpetuate this awful system. Well I do hope participation in the upcoming vote is huge. I believe that the vast majority of voters understand how stupid it is to continue to lock up more and more people. And I think they see the arguments for a bigger jail as misguided.

Jennifer Harrison 1 month, 1 week ago

I appreciate the content of this article...Ms. Heiss confirms our court system and law enforcement officials are doing a fantastic job at getting inmates into the programs and diverting them from jail.

What I found rather awkward is her desire to examine law enforcement contacts and the proceeding arrests. Is she proposing law enforcement stop arresting criminals? The LPD already gives notices to appear for municipal violations and none of the municipal court charges have bonds so the criminals, if arrested, just sign their own recognizance and are out the door before the officer can complete his/her paperwork.

Another statistic cited in this article is the percentage of people of color as represented by Douglas County residents. Do the POC include Wyandotte/Shawnee County inmates or just Douglas County?

I appreciate her view on the issue and looking forward to voting YES for the jail expansion and mental health facility.

Patricia Kirk 1 month, 1 week ago

I follow the Innocence Project and given that and the statistic I read that 10% of prisoners didn't commit the crime, seems like just letting the innocent out would cut back on the prison population. The State pays for people for 20 and 30 years who are cleared by DNA and withheld evidence. I don't say that's the case with Lawrence, and I don't say there should be mass release. Most of them are mean and unrepentant and just where they should be. But if a person in the law withholds evidence or coerces a confession, that is the person who should be in jail.

John Middleton 1 month, 1 week ago

Don't you know that they are ALL innocent. Just ask them...

Kendall Simmons 1 month, 1 week ago

They are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Bob Smith 1 month, 1 week ago

If people were to slow down on committing crimes, the incarceration rate would go down.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 month, 1 week ago

Well, that is a true statement, Bob, but who would have thought it would be so complicated. Money needs to be put into education, mental health, poverty relief, youth programs to guide young people into making good choices, etc. We must fight the anti-intellectual attitudes, which is pushed by pop culture. But that money has been cut and cut over and over again. Also when I was a teacher, I have been accused of "brainwashing" the kids, because I taught them to be respectful to each other. Most parents were great, and knew we were supporting their desire to raise good kids, but the longer I taught, the amount of bad parents seemed to increase.

So what is your solution, Bob?

Sharilyn Wells 1 month, 1 week ago

Yes obey the law separate but equal and make a treaty break a treaty with the natives

Bob Smith 1 month, 1 week ago

I don't think people being arrested in Douglas county today are crusading for justice. More likely they're committing robbery and selling illegal drugs.

Kendall Simmons 1 month, 1 week ago

OR! Not committing a crime at all but merely being arrested because the police are human and make mistakes.

Jeanette Kekahbah 1 month, 1 week ago

Sharilyn Wells with all your hypersensitivity that comment is outright disrespectful

Richard Heckler 1 month, 1 week ago

The ALEC /Brownback people put an end to the speedy trial effort by allowing alleged violators to stay in jail for 150 days instead of 90 days.

That will increase jail population.

I think I understood this next statement correctly ..... prisoners can decline a legal counsel as many times as they wish which means another legal counsel will need to be appointed which also drags out the time a prisoner can stay behind bars.

This will also increase the jail population.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture? We need to know how and why both of these situations came about. Which means until we know more this ballot may need to be placed on the back burner. If neither of the above are eliminated then more jail space will never be the answer.

It would also be good to give the mental health campus time to work which would provide we taxpayers with a better picture as to how many new jail beds Douglas County actually needs.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 1 week ago

Koch Industries has been a leader of ALEC. It was the board—it was the board chair for ALEC’s corporate board. Koch Industries presided over the whole expansion of the criminal justice system at the state level through ALEC.

And now it wants to pretend, in essence, that it wasn’t part of that effort, that it wasn’t a leader of ALEC during those measures.

And so, where there is consensus for reform, I think that should move forward, but where Koch is trying to change the law to make it easier to limit accountability for financial crimes, for environmental crimes and other crimes that corporations might commit, I think those provisions should be dropped.

They haven’t been honest about that. And the Kochs are engaged in a massive PR campaign to try to burnish their reputation in the face of rightful and proper criticism from people about their undue influence on our entire democracy.

Richard Heckler 1 month, 1 week ago

==The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor | The Nation ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to create private for-profit prisons, a boon to two of its major corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut.

==Guns, Prisons, Crime, and Immigration - ALEC Exposed Oct 13, 2017 - This page documents how bills pushed by ALEC corporations result in taxpayers subsidizing the profits of the private prison industry by putting more people in for- profit prisons and keeping them in jail for longer. The bills also would put more guns on streets and interfere with local law enforcement,_Prisons,_Crime,_and_Immigration

==ALEC & Privatization - ALEC Exposed ALEC's "Private Correctional Facilities Act" would allow any unit of government to contract with a for-profit corporation to imprison Americans accused or convicted of violating criminal laws.

==Private Prisons Industry: Increasing Incarcerations, Maximizing Profits ... Nov 17, 2011 - Through involvement in the leadership of ALEC , private prison companies have played a key role in lobbying for and passing harsher sentencing for non-violent offenses and other questionable activities.

==How ALEC & the Kochs Publicly Back Questionable Criminal Justice Reform ... Oct 3, 2016 - And CCA is just one of the many corporations that has been part of ALEC as it has pushed forward both for privatization of prisons, as well as measures to make people go to jail for longer—longer sentences.

==Criminal Justice - American Legislative Exchange Council Notable members include:

==Hidden corporate profits in the U.S. prison system: the unorthodox ... We find that ALEC seeks to expand the private prison industry in three ways:

==American Legislative Exchange Council - Wikipedia Economist Paul Krugman wrote in 2012 that ALEC had "a special interest in privatization—that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations

Bob Smith 1 month, 1 week ago

A Heckler-storm has passed through this thread leaving the expected drivel in its wake.

Bob Smith 1 month, 1 week ago

Let me know when I post the same set of links hundreds of times.

Jeanette Kekahbah 1 month, 1 week ago

How wonderful it is all of you have the right to vote without having any obligation to do so responsibly. So easy to knee-jerk react and jump on bandwagons under appealing sounding slogans and, hey, why bother being educated because that requires effort which you aren't willing to make while smugly justifying your lazy short sightedness as social, moral righteousness.

Sharilyn Wells 1 month, 1 week ago

Jeannette I have known several people that died here waiting for help mental health reform has been a mess.

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