Letter to the editor: Reverse trial law

To the editor:

Undersheriff Gary Bunting, who oversees the Douglas County Jail, partly blames a Kansas statute for the increased jail population. Before 2014, Kansas law provided that an incarcerated defendant must be brought to trial within 90 days. In 2014 (and today), there were exceptions to this rule, including delays caused by the defendant, unavailability on the court’s calendar and unavailable material evidence.

Nevertheless, the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association and other law enforcement groups, the attorney general and the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association all advocated to increase the statutory limit to 150 days, pointing to backlogs at forensic labs, congested court dockets and inadequate time for prosecutors to prepare for trial.

Despite concerns, the Kansas Association of Counties took a neutral position, relying on the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association’s representation that “the added costs will be nominal.”

The only opponent to the change was me, predicting increased costs to county jails that “are already dealing with budget cuts and overcrowding.”

Before Douglas County residents decide whether the solution to our jail overcrowding is a $44 million addition, they should know that advocates of the increase to 150 days included the people who now fault it. On Jan. 5, County Commissioner Nancy Thellman urged the Legislature to revisit the 150-day law. I encourage all of the 2014 advocates for the increase to join Thellman in her request. The change was a very expensive Band-Aid that we must now rip off and instead deal directly with systemic problems in the criminal justice process.