City delays change to domestic violence sentences

Wichita City Council members stopped short Tuesday of a full update of the city’s criminal codes, asking for more study on the effect of changing mandatory sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to update code interpretation, intoxicating liquor and animal control codes, bringing them into compliance with revisions to Kansas statutes.

However, the council backed off on changes to the mandatory domestic violence sentences, changes that could help the city save an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 annually on jail fees. Instead, the council wants recommendations from domestic abuse counselors before proceeding.

New vice mayor Janet Miller said she refuses to put the city’s escalating jail fees bill above public safety by exposing domestic violence victims to their perpetrators. She said the cooling-off period that mandatory jail time provides is essential to breaking the cycle of domestic violence.

“My concern is that in the interest of public safety, the last thing I want to do is reduce jail fees at all costs,” Miller said after the meeting. “Our main objective is public safety.”

Miller wants to retain the minimum of five consecutive days in jail on a second domestic violence conviction, and wants municipal court judges to consider all second convictions, not just those that fall within the previous five years as state statutes provide.

“That is an issue for me,” Miller said. “The mandatory jail time is the one opportunity a victim has to make other choices safely, so I’d like for us to reconsider that.”

Sharon Dickgrafe, deputy assistant city attorney, said the overall code changes could have a significant impact on the $2 million the city pays annually to Sedgwick County to house its prisoners. She had no financial estimates on the savings, but said 20 to 25 percent of the city’s criminal cases involve domestic violence.

No time frame was given for the issue’s return before the council.

Domestic violence punishments remain a concern for city officials, who are lobbying in Topeka against a legislative move to require anyone convicted of domestic violence to attend 24 weeks of training at the offender’s expense.

Failure to complete the training lands the offender in jail, which could cause the city’s jail fees bill to explode, according to Dale Goter, the city’s government affairs director.