An expanded jail and a behavioral health campus would help vulnerable Douglas County residents turn their lives around, but many other pieces of the criminal justice and mental health puzzle aren't things that a ballot question can decide, panelists at a public forum said Saturday.
The Lawrence-Douglas County chapter of the League of Women Voters hosted the “Restorative Practices: What's Next After The Vote?” forum at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Appearing as panelists were Mike Brouwer, director of the re-entry program at the Douglas County Jail; Lawrence defense attorney Julia Butler; Jose Cornejo, Lawrence school district mental health facilitator; Douglas County District Court Chief Judge Peggy Kittel; and Bert Nash CEO Patrick Schmitz. About 90 county residents attended the event.
The “vote” referenced in the forum’s title was this spring’s mail-in referendum, in which voters will decide whether a half-cent sales tax should be used to fund a $44 million jail expansion, an $11 million behavioral health campus, $5.1 million in annual behavioral health services, and provide about $1 million of the $6.1 million needed annually for increased operational costs from the jail expansion. Ballots will be mailed April 25 and will be counted May 15.
The forum panel did not include representatives of Justice Matters or Kansas Appleseed, who have made term "restorative justice" a focus of their campaign against the referendum.
Brouwer and Schmitz made a case for the sales tax and the projects it would fund, saying the initiatives would provide opportunities for vulnerable county residents incarcerated in jail, caught in the grips of substance abuse or suffering from mental illness.
The expanded jail would allow the county to stop “farming out” 50 to 80 low-level offenders to the jails of other counties, Brouwer said. That would allow the inmates more access to their families, attorneys and the re-entry programs the jail offers, which include classes designed to help inmates avoid future criminal activity.
Ideally, inmates would get 100 hours of exposure to the re-entry programming, but they now get about 10 because of the time many spend out of county, Brouwer said. Because of that, the program's recidivism rate has increased from 30 percent in 2013 to 43 percent in 2017.
Schmitz said the behavioral health campus would provide a similar path to recovery for people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.
The campus, which would be built on West Second Street just north of Bert Nash, would provide mental health and substance abuse crisis services and include transitional and long-term housing to help sustain recovery. The referendum also would provide funding for suicide prevention, a mobile behavioral health intervention team and extension of mental health services available in the Lawrence school district to the Baldwin City and Eudora school districts, he said.
But the panelists also mentioned criminal justice reforms that voters wouldn't get a chance to weigh in on. Some of these were already implemented, and others weren't in the hands of county leaders at all.
Brouwer, for instance, gave attendees a rundown on the county's pretrial release program, which he said helped low-income inmates by removing the requirement to post bail. There were currently 102 people out of jail on pretrial release, 18 through participation in the county's behavioral health court and 26 serving sentences through home arrest, he said.
Butler said all of those programs have been successful in reducing the jail population, but added that they weren't the best fit for every inmate.
“I think the programs that have been put in place are doing an excellent job of reducing the jail population,” she said. “When I look at the numbers the Sheriff’s Office has released of the types of offenses people are in jail on and hear people say we shouldn’t increase the jail size, my question is, ‘Which of these inmates would you like to come stay at your house?’ Seriously, there are 14 people in jail for murder or attempted murder, a couple on rape and indecent liberties with a child.”
Several panelists also discussed the pace of court proceedings, but noted that the solution to crowded dockets would likely have to come from Topeka.
Brouwer said that after researching solutions to speed up district court processes, he concluded that any meaningful changes in that area would have to come from the Kansas Legislature. District court judges, court staff and public defenders needed better pay, Brouwer said, and only the Legislature could authorize that.
“The opportunity lies at the state level,” he said. “Judge Kittel talks about having the third-highest case level in the state. We’ve received two additional district court judges since 1982. We have the lowest-paid judiciary system in the country. That is all a result of the Legislature being angry at the courts for telling them they have to take care of our K-12 schools.”
County residents needed to lobby the legislature to adequately fund the court, Brouwer said.
If more funding for courts wasn't a possibility, Kittel said that she wouldn’t support speeding up court processes at the expense of defendants’ due process rights. Defense attorneys needed time to arrange the best plea bargain they can get for clients or prepare a defense for trial, she said.
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