Douglas County Commission’s work session to focus on specialty courts as incarceration alternatives

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this Journal-World file photo from Feb. 13, 2019, a gavel lies on the bench in the historic Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday will attend a work session on specialty courts — such as a drug court — as possible alternatives to incarceration.

The county launched a behavioral health court in 2017 as one means of keeping those with mental illness and behavioral health needs out of the Douglas County Jail — with the goals of both better serving those offenders and scaling down the population of the jail. According to statistics from the county, that court has served 26 people since its launch.

On Wednesday, commissioners will learn more about other potential specialty courts.

“We’re going to step back and have more of a broad conversation about how specialty courts can be used, and we want to be really thoughtful on how to implement them moving forward,” Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told commissioners at their March 27 meeting.

Specifically, a presentation in the commission’s agenda materials discusses drug courts. A drug court would offer criminal offenders with substance use disorders an intensive and therapeutic treatment plan while they’re monitored by a treatment support team, including a substance use counselor and representatives from the courts and law enforcement.

Ideally, the drug court would reduce recidivism and “offer diversion and charge dismissal upon successful completion, therefore reducing client criminal history and obstacles of future employment, housing, and schooling opportunities for drug court graduates,” according to the presentation.

The presentation also highlights 10 drug courts in Kansas, including in Shawnee and Wyandotte counties, and lists two “healing to wellness courts,” two juvenile drug courts and a veteran treatment court.

In other business,

• The commission will consider whether to allow Plinsky to execute a lease agreement with Berkeley Plaza Inc. for the former Lawrence Municipal Court building at 1006 New Hampshire St. The lease is for a monthly rate of $10,767; the city had been paying $11,571, according to Plinsky’s memo to commissioners.

• Commissioners will consider bids to abate and demolish the former Public Works Building at 1242 Massachusetts St. Based on architectural assessments and consultations, “it had been determined that the building should be razed in anticipation of future use,” according to a memo in the commission’s agenda. Staff is recommending an abatement contract for $48,450 and a demolition contract for $97,564.

The Douglas County Commission will meet at 4 and 5:30 p.m. for its work session and regular meeting, respectively, Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Complete agenda materials are available via

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