Addressing Jail Overcrowding

In June, the Saline County Jail booked in 72 first time offenders and 318 repeat offenders.  In July, the jail booked in 83 first time offenders and 335 repeat offenders, according to Captain Brent Melander.

Just how many of the “repeat offenders” are returning to jail to serve out a number of court ordered, “48 hour jail sentences” is unclear.  Court Administrator Todd Heitschmidt said that if someone on probation “tests positive for drug use”, they might be ordered “to do 48 hours” in jail over several weekends.  Heitschmidt also said that individuals who fail to make a court appearance may have a bench warrant sworn out; if picked up, the individuals are taken to jail until they appear in court.

Challenges in how statistics are kept cloud the Committee to Reduce the Jail Population’s attempts to define and address recidivism.  Saline County Commissioner Dave Smith questioned, “Is there no other way to penalize violators?”  Smith said jails are overcrowded with non-violent individuals who aren’t a danger to society.  Continuing, Smith said that for those who’ve been to jail once or twice, the threat of going to jail is no deterrent; they’ve often lost their jobs, cars and families.

The municipal court and district court handle bond in different ways.  Detainees in the municipal court system often are able to obtain bail; if not, many are permitted to sign a statement and leave after 18 hours.  Melander said that “95% of the district court” detainees bond out.  He said of individuals who aren’t able to bond out, an individual booked on a driving-under-the-influence charge on a Friday evening may wait in jail until Monday until they see a judge.

In July, Melander said the jail booked in individuals with the following charges:

  • 32 with domestic violence charges
  • 35 with battery charges
  • 24 with property crimes
  • 109 with drug offenses
  • 121 with traffic offenses

Director of Catholic Charities, and former attorney at the County, Michelle Martin confirmed that “a lot of drug offenses occupy a lot of space in jail and on the court dockets”.

Smith asked if State defined mandatory sentencing requirements are contributing to jail overcrowding.  Adding, “If so, this needs to be looked at”.

State Representatives JR Claeys and Diana Dierks attended the meeting.  Claeys said he was “open to ideas on how to punish” individuals.  As an elected official, Claeys said voters look to see if a candidate “is tough on crime” and this is often “construed to mean locking them up”.  Claeys said that sentencing commissions came up with guidelines to reduce the number of beds in correction facilities.  He said that “as soon as a change” saved “150 beds by reducing some drug offences, the Senate filled 300 beds” with other change.

Discussions turned to an individual on probation, who happens to crack open a beer.  This becomes a violation of a probation condition.  The group considered what might be the next level of punishment that doesn’t come with the associated cost of putting that person in jail.

Smith said he was “old enough to consider the whipping post” as an alternative.  He said “it isn’t as inhumane” as causing that person to suffer the losses associated with being booked into jail.

Martin questioned if “the goal is to correct behavior or to punish”?

Director of Community Corrections Annie Grevas said, “The goal is to change behavior.”  She said the State channels funds to Community Corrections to promote behavior changes.  An individual who is released from prison and then reoffends may have their parole revoked.  Judges are given some latitude to consider sentencing individuals to serve time in jail.  Some legislation has increased the population of those in jail.

Melander said he randomly checked the work histories of 15 jail inmates.  Only four held jobs.  Melander suggested that a lot of individuals in jail didn’t hold jobs for a period of time.

Grevas–playing devil’s advocate–said, “A person who doesn’t bound out—doesn’t make them violent.  It makes them poor.”

Grevas advocated for judges to have other options to consider besides sending an individual to jail or prison.  She suggested additional use of:

  • Restorative justice; this program has been operating in Saline County for over two years.
  • Electronic monitoring (often using ankle bracelets).

Heitschmidt suggested “adult intake and assessment”, much like the “juvenile intake and assessment” he completes in Dickinson County.  Under this program, when a minor commits an offense, the minor could be released to their parents, be placed in foster care or be put in juvenile detention.  A copy of the determination immediately goes to the County Attorney, who can still decide to file charges.

Heitschmidt acknowledges that the “bond man wouldn’t like these options”.

Outside the meeting, Dierks commended the group for meeting to discuss these concerns.  She agreed that there may be things that can be done on a State level.  She also wants to “maintain local control”, acknowledging that matters that go to the State level could go in many different directions and could come back as mandates.

Tracking Recidivism

In order to collect data on recidivism, the committee will ask newly released inmates to voluntarily sign a form that permits different agencies to provide services.  Central Kansas Mental Health, Central Kansas Foundation and other agencies would then supply information to Catholic Charities, who will compile the information.

Grevas said she received positive comments about a two-day newspaper feature on the homeless and mental illness.  She may be able to approach boards to fund specific projects.  She hopes to be able to track data for comparison with other state and national norms.


Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile asked about panhandlers.  While some who ask for money may appear to be homeless, some may be receiving disability benefits or may simply be asking for money.

Instead of offering them money, Martin suggested offering them a card to an agency that can provide services.  She also suggested asking them if they were hungry.  If so, a person might then offer to buy them something to eat.

Melander said that property owners could ask panhandlers to leave.  If they do not leave, they could be charged with trespassing.

The next meeting of the Committee to Reduce the Jail Population is scheduled for September 28.