A presentation about public defender offices was given by Heather Cessna, executive director of the Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services (BIDS), during the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting on Aug. 12 using Zoom.
Cessna said about 85% of adult felony criminal defendants require appointed counsel. Every attorney appointed on an adult felony case in Kansas is provided by BIDS. They use two systems:
- Statewide network of public defender offices
- Appointed private counsel paid by BIDS
BIDS has nine members who are appointed by the governor. Cessna said the board is given the authority to determine what kind of a system to use and where, according to Kansas Statute 22-4522.
There are 18 public defender offices in Kansas. Douglas County does not have a public defender office, so she discussed the role and implementation process for one. She estimated it would take more than two years to implement and the first step would be a statement of interest from an agency or individual in Douglas County.
“Any proposed change in any kind of a system and anywhere, whether it’s in Douglas County or any other county, is going to take some time to implement. It’s not an immediate solution. It’s not an immediate change,” she said.
She added that even where they have multiple public defender offices, the county still must maintain a robust local appointments list. “Even if you changed over and added a public defender, you are not going to lose an appointments list. You are still going to have an appointments list and that appointments list is going to be used regularly” because of caseloads and conflict issues.
Chief Judge James McCabria reviewed the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct that guides the role of courts in councils like the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. He said judicial members need to maintain impartiality in goals, positions and advocacy. McCabria believes it is important for judges to participate in CJCC, but he wants members to understand their roles and limitations.
Depending on how the issues are presented and perceived by the public, if CJCC takes positions or advocates for criminal justice policy, this could affect whether judicial members could continue to participate. The CJCC bylaws state: “The purpose of the Council is to provide a working forum to support communication and collaborative coordination between and among key criminal justice system officials, advisory bodies, agencies, departments and community members to promote public health, public safety and an effective, equitable and efficient criminal justice system in our community.”
CJCC Coordinator Mike Brouwer said the CJCC does not advocate for policies or systems.
Management of jail population
Capt. Stacy Simmons, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, provided an update on managing the population at the Douglas County Correctional Facility. They’ve had to make changes to be able to provide a quarantine area during the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility has the capacity to hold 186 beds, but when considering classification of individuals and COVID-19 requirements, the functional capacity is 150. Simmons said the goal is to have at least a few beds open in each unit so individuals can be moved from one classification to another.
The population changes from day to day. She said the maximum and special management pods were full as of Aug. 11. She said 15 medium custody men were being housed in four counties: Jackson, Anderson, Jefferson and Pottawatomie. She also discussed how the Sheriff’s Office has made adjustments in other pods. “We are essentially functionally full,” she said.
Simmons added that the Kansas Department of Corrections has informed all sheriff’s offices that it will not take inmate transfers to prison before mid-September.
Brouwer said key criminal justice stakeholders continue to meet bi-weekly to prepare to meet any potential increase in individuals ordered to serve in the Douglas County Correctional Facility, especially as courts begin to open.
On Aug. 29, CJCC members will participate in a six-hour implicit bias training with the Summers Advisory Group.
The next meeting will be at 11 a.m. Sept. 8. For more information about CJCC, visit: douglascountyks.org/cjcchub