When keeping some people in jail makes good sense
The Kansas City Star
Heather Brown and Donald Duncan were hard-core substance abusers who died in terrible ways — Brown a homicide victim and Duncan a heat-related fatality.
They had something else in common. Both had been released early from the Jackson County Jail while they were awaiting treatment for their addictions.
Kansas City Municipal Court Judge Joe Locascio is understandably horrified by their deaths. As the judge who handles the Kansas City Municipal Court’s drug court, he knew Brown and Duncan, and had sentenced them to jail for their own safety.
“They have no internal ability to stay away from drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Staffers at Kansas City’s Municipal Court followed city policy when releasing Brown, 32, and Duncan, 55. Neither was considered violent, and both had completed a third of their sentence and had a good behavior record while in jail.
But Lacascio is right to call for a change in policy. The regional jail is more than a holding facility for persons charged with ordinance violations. It is, for many people, a place to detox, obtain health care and get started on mental health and substance abuse treatment.
A Kansas City ordinance specifies that no prisoner in the correctional facility who is sentenced by a judge “other than a municipal court judge” can be granted early release. That appears to be a glitch that should be corrected. Also, Councilman John Sharp has wisely suggested that prisoners be evaluated when they arrive at the jail to see if they would be good candidates for early release.
Ideally, Kansas City would have abundant long-term, inpatient treatment programs for people like Brown and Duncan. Their problems are deep-rooted and can’t be fixed in a short outpatient course. Long-term programs usually requite state support, however, funding has been cut back severely.
So for many, unfortunately, jail is a place of refuge and even hope. Brown and Duncan should not have been sent out on their own without the judge’s approval.