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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Paperwork delays exacerbate overcrowding at Sedgwick County Jail

BY DEB GRUVER
The Wichita Eagle

Terry Antalek has been in the Sedgwick County Jail since March 8, 2007 — 1,053 days and counting.

That's longer than anyone else there now. On Jan. 14, a judge sentenced him to 741 months in prison for attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sodomy and aggravated assault.

But if a trend holds, Antalek could spend another two to three months in the county's jail —which is struggling with overcrowding — before he is sent to state prison.

That's because it's been taking 60 to 90 days to process paperwork before inmates can be released to state custody, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw says.

It takes an average of 18 days in Johnson County.

The length of time caught Sedgwick County District Court Chief Judge James Fleetwood by surprise.

". . . We will certainly address it here immediately," Fleetwood said. "I don't want someone sitting in our jail if we can get them out to the Secretary of Corrections."

The lag comes as Sedgwick County is trying to reduce its inmate population and avoid building more cell space, which likely would require a property tax increase. It costs the county $65.91 a day to house an inmate in its jail.

The paperwork delay is a significant factor in overcrowding, Hinshaw says, even though the number of inmates headed to Kansas Department of Corrections custody from the jail is low compared with the jail's overall population — 113 inmates in December, or nearly 7 percent of last year's daily average of 1,645.

"The problem comes up when people stay in the beds longer," Hinshaw said. "113 may not sound like a lot, but it's not like they're here for a day."

The district attorney's office acknowledges that it takes about six weeks for prosecutors to complete paperwork before sending it on for others to sign. But it says it gives priority to cases where inmates are going to prison.

Fleetwood said paperwork in his cases involving a prison sentence are generally completed within 25 days because he asks for them to be expedited.

He said he would put the issue on the agenda for a Feb. 12 monthly meeting of judges and a Thursday meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, charged with finding ways to reduce overcrowding.

He said that other judges "will be encouraged if they are not requesting these specific journal entries to be done in a timely manner to begin doing so. I was not aware that it was taking that long on average."

Required paperwork

When a jail inmate is convicted and sentenced to state prison, the Kansas Sentencing Commission requires lawyers to prepare a "journal entry" before the inmate can be moved.

Of 18 received recently, all but two took more than 60 days to reach the sheriff's office, Hinshaw said Wednesday.

The turnaround time for a journal entry takes up to 100 days in some cases, Hinshaw said.

Georgia Cole, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the "norm" for the office to complete journal entries for people sentenced to prison is about six weeks. After that, the paperwork still must go to the prosecutor and defense attorney for signing and then to the court clerk for filing before it can be sent to the sheriff's office.

"Our goal is much less, but we have a backlog that we are trying to work through to get caught up," she said.

Prosecutors prepare journal entries for all cases, from those for probation violation hearings to those for sentencing.

Assistant district attorney Marc Bennett said the office gives priority to cases where the inmate is facing prison time.

Paperwork is separated into two piles: those for people in custody and those for people out of custody.

Trial journal entries recap the information from the beginning of a trial, through jury selection and verdict, Cole said.

They are important, Bennett said, "because they serve as the evidence of criminal history down the road."

Two staff members work full time preparing journal entries, helped by others when available, Cole said. They prepared more than 4,000 journal entries last year, averaging 20 a day.

"Unfortunately, preparing a journal entry is not as easy as checking the boxes, getting signatures, making copies and filing. Some journal entries may take a full day for a single case and others as little as 30 minutes," Cole said.

What takes the most time, she said, is determining credit for time served in jail. That can be an arduous process if a defendant has multiple cases before different court systems.

Defendants sentenced to state custody have the highest priority, Cole said.

Different process

Johnson County District Court Judge Stephen Tatum said a review of five years of cases showed journal entries there take an average of 18 days to complete.

In many cases — but not all, he said — prosecutors prepare journal entries in the courtroom at the end of the sentencing hearing, which allows the defense lawyer and judge to sign off on them at the same time.

"That happens fairly frequently and fairly commonly, and that certainly moves the process along considerably," Tatum said. "If I look at one thing that might be helpful to us to get our time down, that's probably what I would look at."

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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