Justice Matters in Lawrence, Kansas
Five reasons to put a moratorium on jail expansion before doing a comprehensive study on the jail population:
1. We don’t know what’s causing the population explosion at the Douglas County Jail: Since 2011, data from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office shows that the population at the Douglas County Jail has exploded--and it’s growing at a faster rate than that of the general population. This means that the jail is overcrowded, which has become a serious problem.
2. A data-driven approach is best: While some might speculate on reasons for the jail population’s recent exponential growth, a comprehensive study would seek to uncover the factors driving this growth so that we can better understand the limitations and opportunities for reducing the size of our jail.
3. A partial study has already indicated room for changes: Dr. Allen Beck’s report on case processing in Douglas County posited that implementing certain changes could reduce jail overcrowding. A comprehensive study, which would give a more in-depth look at all areas of the criminal justice system, could provide more evidence-based recommendations for reducing overcrowding.
4. History will repeat itself: Building a bigger jail doesn’t help us understand why the jail’s population is increasing. If we fail to focus on reducing our jail population and current trends continue, we will simply find ourselves facing another, more severe overcrowding problem in the years to come.
5. It’s the humane thing to do: When considering the 200+ people who are currently locked up in the Douglas County Jail, it’s simply the humane thing to do. If there are people spending the night in our jail who don’t need to be there--who don’t pose a threat to public safety or who can’t afford to post bail--we owe it to them to seriously delve into the question of how we can reduce our jail population.
Five reasons to have hope:
1. Douglas County’s newly-elected County Commissioner, Patrick Kelly: Commissioner Kelly appears to be the kind of leader who listens carefully before making important decisions. During his campaign, Commissioner Kelly came out in favor of a comprehensive study of the County’s criminal justice system, asserting that more information would only help the County in doing its job.
2. Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson: DA Branson believes that his role is to be a problem solver in the courts rather than just being a case processor. As such, he continues to welcome a comprehensive study of the local criminal justice system, just as he indicated several months ago in an editorial to the LJ World.
3. The steadfast Douglas County electorate: Voters have already successfully voted down a jail expansion, and opposition to the currently-proposed expansion remains strong.
4. Douglas County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC): Under the leadership of Criminal Justice Coordinator Robert Bienecki, the CJCC is unafraid to answer tough questions, as evidenced by its recent participation in a study that will examine racial bias in local law enforcement offices.
5. Criminal justice reform isn’t just the talk of the town in Lawrence: Cities, counties, and states across the country are beginning to embrace sweeping reforms of a system that advocates believe can be reimagined to be more effective. One example: Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning both recently indicated support of a review of state sentencing guidelines.