County to track how long jail forms take

Sedgwick County District Court will begin tracking how long it takes to complete a report required before county jail inmates can be transferred to prison.

Chief Judge James Fleetwood said Thursday that he has asked for the tracking to speed up the completion of journal entries, which are taking 60 to 90 days. Some take as many as 100 days.

He did so in response to a story by The Wichita Eagle that showed roughly 7 percent of the jail's population in December was waiting for paperwork to be completed so the inmates could be transferred to prison.

The backlog comes at a time when the county is looking for alternatives to expanding its overcrowded jail, a move that would likely raise property taxes. It is also important because it costs taxpayers $65.91 a day to keep someone in the county jail.

Fleetwood said he also plans to tell all 28 judges to order the district attorney's office — responsible for writing the journal entries — to expedite the paperwork for such inmates.

"I am taking the ball," Fleetwood told other members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a group charged with reducing the jail's population.

In a Dec. 17 snapshot of the jail's population, 113 inmates had been sentenced and were awaiting transfer to prison.

"To be fair, the largest percentage of these are people who are waiting for a journal entry," Fleetwood said.

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.

A trial journal entry recaps the information from the beginning of a trial through jury selection and verdict, and becomes part of the criminal history of the case.

The new tracking system will involve adding two bits of information to electronic court records — the day a person is remanded to state custody and the day the journal entry is finished.

Fleetwood said that will allow him to monitor how long the paperwork takes.

Judges will be asked to "order the DA to expedite the journal entry" for inmates headed to prison, he said. "I say 'order,' that sounds harsh, but it's not meant to sound harsh. Then we can use this report to follow up on that process and make sure that it's taking place."

Georgia Cole, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, confirmed last week that it took an average of six weeks for prosecutors to complete journal entries. The paperwork then goes to a judge and attorneys for signing and then a court clerk for filing before going to the sheriff's office.

She acknowledged there had been a backlog. Two full-time staff members work on journal entries; other staff assist as necessary.

No one from the district attorney's office was at Thursday's council meeting.

Judge Clark Owens said he "would have never dreamed" that journal entries were taking 60 to 90 days to reach the sheriff's office.

"I could have passed a polygraph the day before that story came out that journal entries" took a week to complete, he said.

"I want a journal entry within one week," Owens said, adding that if he doesn't get one within that time, "I'm going to call the DA and say 'Why is it not on my desk?' "

Kim Nolen, whose husband has been in jail since Sept. 15, called The Eagle on Wednesday to say she had been waiting for a journal entry so her husband could "move forward with his life. He can't do nothing without the journal entry."

Her husband was sentenced Dec. 11 to nine months in prison for criminal possession of a firearm, fleeing and eluding and possession of marijuana. He's been waiting since then for a journal entry, she said.

Nolen said Thursday that a prosecutor told her the journal entry would be finished that day.

According to the jail population snapshot prepared by the sheriff's office, inmates waiting to go to prison were the fastest-growing group from July to December. In July, that group made up 4.6 percent of inmates; by December, it had climbed to 7 percent.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said "it would more than pay for itself to hire someone to follow through on those journal entries."

The county hired Justice Concepts Inc. in August 2008 to come up with ways to reduce the jail's population. The group failed to meet a June 4 deadline to reduce the number of inmates by 25 percent. The county has paid Justice Concepts $78,449 of its original contract plus $28,500 for extra work it said it did outside the agreement.

Late last year, the company proposed an 18-month contract extension with a price tag of about $228,000. It later withdrew that proposal.

Welshimer said Justice Concepts had planned to bring up journal entries as an issue affecting jail overcrowding. Justice Concepts hasn't turned in any written recommendations. Consultant Nancy Insco did not return a call after the meeting.

Commissioner Dave Unruh said he was unaware of the problem and had never heard Justice Concepts talk about it.

"We don't have any reports from them," he said.