Peterjohn writes to lawmaker: Pay county for felons

A Sedgwick County commissioner continues to push the state to reconsider housing convicted felons in county jails.

Karl Peterjohn asked the Kansas Association of Counties to include in its legislative agenda a call for the state to reimburse counties for the cost of housing such felons, to track how many are serving time in jail and to make that number available to the public.

Peterjohn recently sent a letter to Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, chairwoman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight, re-emphasizing that "jail overcrowding is a major problem in Kansas. A significant part of this problem is due to recent state laws that place a large number of convicted felons into county jails to serve their sentences."

His letter, which he sent on Tuesday and had the county copy to all legislators by e-mail, asks the state to reimburse counties for housing convicted felons, who used to serve their time in state prisons.

In a December snapshot of the jail's population, 195 of 1,575 inmates were convicted felons. That represented more than 12 percent of the jail's population.

It costs $66.20 a day to house an inmate in the county jail. That means housing convicted felons for one day costs the county $12,909.

Historically, Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw has said, felons went to state prison and those convicted of misdemeanors went to the county jail.

But now people convicted of crimes such as felony driving while suspended, felony DUIs and some forgery cases are ending up in jail and for longer stretches as the state increases punishment for crimes such as driving under the influence.

A new law that was to go into effect in July would strengthen penalties for a third-time DUI charge and was expected to increase the number of people serving their sentences in county jails. But legislators are considering withdrawing that bill as they rework some other DUI-related legislation also expected to affect county jails.

Peterjohn said Colloton had not yet responded to him.

Colloton told The Eagle that Peterjohn's concern was legitimate, but she said people charged with crimes such as DUI do better when they remain in their community connected to family and other support systems.

Sending people to state prison "breaks all their connections to the community," which hurts their rehabilitation, she said.

Colloton said she disagreed that the state is trying to shift financial responsibility to counties. That said, she added, "I wish the state could afford to help the local county jails but we don't have the money to do that."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle