Drug court pilot program to be considered in Douglas County budget

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Pam Weigand, Douglas County's director of criminal justice services and chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, answers questions about a proposed drug court during the CJCC's meeting on Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Seated, left to right, are Criminal Justice Coordinator Robert Bieniecki, Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky, Judge Peggy Kittel, and Assistant District Attorney Mark Simpson.

Although plans aren’t yet fully fleshed out, the Douglas County Commission will consider a proposed drug court as part of its budget process for 2020.

As part of ongoing efforts to provide alternatives to incarceration and reduce recidivism, particularly for those with substance use disorders, leaders in Douglas County’s criminal justice system have been considering adding a second specialty court. The first, behavioral health court, was established in January 2017 to help reduce the number of defendants with mental illness in the jail and the court system.

Pam Weigand, director of Criminal Justice Services and chair of the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, told the CJCC at its Tuesday meeting — which drew about 50 members of the public to the Douglas County Fairgrounds — that the proposed drug court is based on national best practice. Participants would complete four phases, increasing in intensity, over 16 months. They would meet with an adult services officer for accountability and to report progress, and they’d need to submit to drug tests at random.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Pam Weigand, Douglas County’s director of criminal justice services and chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, speaks to CJCC members from behind the lectern during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

According to Weigand’s presentation, 21% of pretrial release clients were unsuccessful due to substance use and other technical violations in 2018. Drug court would attempt to temper those kinds of issues through support as well as through sober living and transportation for those who need it.

Weigand, citing the National Drug Court Institute, said that every $1 invested toward drug court yields more than $2-4 per participant, which equates to a savings of $3,000 to $22,000 per participant. Also, citing the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, she said that sending someone to drug court instead of state prison can save up to $13,000 per participant.

Interim County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said during the meeting that she had asked Weigand to propose a placeholder budget item for the drug court, so the County Commission will be able to consider it in its 2020 budget process in the coming weeks. There are still details to work out in terms of staffing support, Plinsky said.

After the meeting, Weigand shared with the Journal-World the placeholder budget she’d submitted — $420,000, which would include the district attorney’s staff for the drug court, she said via email.

Weigand said the program would start with a pilot to serve 15 nonviolent drug offenders, and that it might expand in future years, depending on need.

Although he wasn’t present for Tuesday’s meeting, District Attorney Charles Branson has previously said he’s in favor of the drug court. Weigand also said that Judge Kay Huff has been helping with planning, and she would be interested in presiding over drug court.

CJCC members agreed to create a subcommittee that will focus on the structure of the drug court and bring a recommendation back to the full council.

In other business:

• CJCC members said they wanted to learn more about a proposal for a study that would analyze quality, availability and effectiveness of the programs and services the county offers to those who are involved in the court system and those in the Douglas County Jail, as well as what’s available to the broader community.

Robert Bieniecki, the county’s criminal justice coordinator, said the study proposal came from the local grassroots faith coalition Justice Matters. A few CJCC members shared concerns about the proposal. The consensus was that a smaller group of members would try to set up a time to talk with the researchers proposing the study, then return to the full council with more information.


• Bieniecki provided the council an update on the law enforcement contact study, which will ask Lawrence, Baldwin City, Eudora and University of Kansas police officers and Douglas County sheriff’s deputies to start gathering specific data on all traffic and pedestrian stops on Sept. 1.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Roughly 50 members of the public attend the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Speaking at the lectern is Robert Bieniecki, criminal justice coordinator.

The two-year, $175,000 study is an effort to determine whether racial and ethnic disproportionalities exist. It comes in part because African Americans have been disproportionately represented in the Douglas County Jail.

A draft data collection form asks officers to record such things as the race of the person they’re stopping — based on the officer’s perception, whether or not it’s accurate — the reason for the stop, and the outcomes, including whether they issue a warning or a citation, conduct a search and so on.

Researchers will continue to tweak data collection forms through the end of this year, and data that is collected beginning in January 2020 will be included in analysis, Bieniecki said.

The CJCC’s next meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The Douglas County Commission will next discuss its 2020 budget at a work session at 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 19.

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