OPINION: Does Residency matter When the Jail is Overcrowded?

During the 2015 orientation of the Saline County Commissioners to the Sheriff’s Office/Jail, commissioners received statistics that counted the jail’s inmates by whether they resided in Salina, Saline County, nearby counties, Kansas and elsewhere.  I remember greater than 20+% of inmates were from “elsewhere”.

The May 2018 Data Analysis of Saline County, used by a consultant to estimate future jail capacity needs, identifies some inmate “characteristics.  “Place of residency” isn’t listed.  Perhaps that’s because some individuals carry multiple forms of identification, with multiple addresses, that they use to suit their convenience.

Some simple explanations:

  • Salina is near the intersection of I-70 and I-135; Salina strives to be a recreation and shopping destination. The jail’s inmate population has been at its highest during River Festival.
  • Salina has had three colleges; these attract out-of-area residents.
  • Salina has a mission that serves western Kansas’ homeless. This is admirable.  But some individuals break the mission’s rules and are no longer welcome.  Some self-appointed “campers” are on a “slow suicide” with alcohol.  Last fall, they created problems for CityGo; some “wintered” in the jail.

Some less simple explanations:

  • A while back, CNN’s Anderson Cooper did a segment on “drug lord El Chapo” Guzman’s distribution network. A graphic showed the state boundaries and major highways.  I could easily identify Wichita, Kansas City, Great Bend and Salina.  Great Bend is a major UPS hub.  I’ve asked representatives of the I-70 and I-135 Drug Task Force and other officials if Salina is especially vulnerable to drug trafficking.  No expert/official has given me any real data.
  • During that 2015 commissioner orientation, I observed some deputies exhibit an “enthusiasm for forfeiture”. Perhaps they sought the “glory” of making a big drug bust.  Perhaps others saw it as an opportunity for the Sheriff’s Office to be able to purchase needed vehicles and equipment.

I tested my theories by using arrest notices to track a few criminal cases.  This was typical:  A Junction City man was charged in October 2015 with “drug possession after a traffic stop on I-70”; his vehicle traveled 85 miles per hour in a 75 mph zone near the Ellsworth/Saline County line.  The deputy noticed a strong odor of marijuana; later over 3 pounds of pot were found in the vehicle.

This driver “made bond” of $40,000, but acquired 23 days of jail credit while waiting to be released.  When his case went to court a year later, he paid $558 in court related costs and received two six month sentences on two counts, to be served concurrently.  The court suspended the sentences and gave him unsupervised probation.

County Attorney Ellen Mitchell told me that with most individuals charged with drug counts eventually bond out of jail.  She said the State recently radically changed forfeiture laws.

In 2016, Ellsworth County residents realized they could easily overfill their 10 bed jail with drivers headed eastward from Colorado, after it legalized marijuana.  They elected Murray A Marston as Sheriff and Susan Hoffman Robson as County Attorney.  Neither favored aggressive patrolling of vehicles with out-of-state tags.  Marston had served 31 years with KHP.

I understand why law enforcement must pull over drivers who excessively speed.  But stopping a vehicle for “driving in the passing lane” or “failure to maintain a lane” raises questions about punitive patrolling.

What happened in Ellsworth brings up questions.  When do we, the citizenry of a community, get to have a say in how we are policed?  Do different standards apply for residents and visitors (tourists v hobos)?  Must we be prepared to pay more for law enforcement if Salina’s location makes it a target for drug traffickers?

Opinion piece written by Karen Shade of Salina