It’s not a get out of jail free card but a new program in court can help keep people out of jails and prison.
Dickinson County District Judge Benjamin Sexton said he is concerned about the overcrowded prisons and jails, and he instigated a “50 percent hearing” for defendants who are on probation designed to help those convicted of crimes.
Halfway through probation, judges in the 8th District Court hold a hearing on the defendant’s probation. If the person has not had any technical violations, paid the fines and costs, and completed treatment, the judge will consider terminating the probation that day.
“It’s a carrot, hope for that person to do well, work the probation hard, get all the fines and costs paid, and get your probation terminated halfway through,” Sexton said.
“The longer somebody stays on probation, the more inclined they are to violate probation. The longer they keep them on probation, the bigger the possibility they will end up down in DOC (Department of Corrections.)”
“We are jam-packed at DOC,” Sexton said.
He said the DOC has now contracted with a private prison in Arizona. The agreement with Nashville-based CoreCivic started in August
On Aug. 8, the KDOC had an inmate population of 9,088 males and 914 females, according to the news release.
A total of 600 inmates could be sent to Arizona.
“We’ve had some success,” Sexton said of the 50 percent hearings, which started last July. “The success doesn’t outweigh the individuals who aren’t getting off, but at least it gets those people off probation.”
The program saves costs and frees up the probation officer’s time to devote to other individuals.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” Sexton said.
Prosecutors get notice of that hearing and the probation officer’s findings.
“They will file a report,” he said. “That will tell me if there are any technical violations, if they paid their fines and costs, if there have been any substantive violation with other crimes, and that gives the prosecutor the ability to contact any victims that may exist and input can be received.”
Sexton said he learned about 50 percent concept from Judge Lee Fowler in Lyon County.
Sexton is the vice chairman of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, which is chaired by Flower.
“We were discussing probation, and he stated they had a program in Lyon County and had for some time a program that involved a 50 percent review of a defendant on how they are doing on probation,” Sexton said.
Sexton said that crimes of theft and burglary are often related to drug use.
“Methamphetamine is a huge problem,” Sexton said. “The addiction is strong. The likelihood of them going off the wagon is high. If you revoke every one of those individuals and toss them in prison, taxpayers better pony up, because we don’t have enough beds.”
Sexton said Senate Bill 123 has been a successful tool in helping with addiction.
“It involved some type of inpatient treatment followed by some very structured outpatient treatment, preferably a halfway house,” he said. “Those individuals need a lot of accountability and a lot of structure because the likelihood of reoffending or using that drug is high. We have to be very patient.”
The Senate Bill created mandatory community-based drug treatment for individuals convicted of first-offense or second-offense drug possession.
“Our jails and prisons should be for individuals that are committing violent crimes, person felonies,” Sexton said. “However, we also have to be cognizant that people have a right not to have their property taken from them or their houses violated by burglaries that generally run hand-in-hand with drug abuse. There is a fine line that we walk.”
Truancy court, veterans court and drug court are designed to help with treatment.
“We don’t have the ability to have one of the specialty courts,” Sexton said. “The idea of the specialty courts is to give that person a pat on the back, to give them structure and to give them hope. People need hope.”
Sexton said that studies show that the treatment of an individual costs $7 per day. Prison costs $77 per day.
“That’s what it costs the taxpayer. It behooves us to invest. We don’t have enough treatment programs,” Sexton said. “We don’t have enough halfway houses. Don’t even get me started on mental health. These things are all lacking.”
Sexton said that as the prisons fill up, more inmates will be doing their sentencing in county jail instead of state prisons.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.