Crime & Courts

New law means probation violators could face ‘quick dip’ in jail

When dealing with a felon who has violated the terms of his probation, a Kansas judge typically has two options:

Revoke the probation and send the offender to prison. Or give the offender a stern lecture, impose new sanctions and put him back on probation.

As of July 1, there’s a third option: A “quick dip” in the county jail.

A new law that authorizes two- or three-day jail terms for probation violators is part of an overhaul of the state’s probation and parole system.

Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay said the quick dip provision was designed to supplement a system that often requires suspected violators to wait several weeks for a formal probation violation hearing.

“It’s to catch their attention so they understand there is an immediate reaction to violating,” he said. “If your child gets in trouble, you’re not going to say, ‘In three weeks I’m going to give you a timeout.’ ”

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said the law authorizes a probation officer to impose up to 18 days of jail time – in two-or three-day increments – to offenders who violate their conditions of probation. If the offender waives the right to a formal hearing, the quick dips can take place without the approval of judge.

“The idea is that quick responses have more of an effect than a sanction imposed three to four weeks after the violation,” Bennett said.

In Sedgwick County, lawyers and judges are still working out the finer details of the law. They don’t yet know whether it can be applied retroactively to crimes committed before the law took effect. Barclay said legislators intended it to. Bennett said his office, as well as some other prosecutors, argue that many provisions of the new law are not retroactive.

Mark Masterson, director of Sedgwick County’s department of corrections, said the law has been used about 20 times locally. Because of concerns over the wording of the law, he said, local probation officers have only used it for offenders in the Community Corrections program, and then only with the written approval of a judge.

Barclay said some confusion about the law may be cleared up with new sentencing forms that require a judge to indicate which defendants should not be considered for the quick dip option. Unless otherwise specified, a defendant will be eligible for a option.

When a probationer continues to violate terms of his or her probation, even after undergoing one or more quick dips, the law authorizes a judge to send the offender to prison for up to 120 days. For a violator who has already served a 120-day sanction, a judge can impose a 180-day prison stay. Prison officials will have the authority to reduce the 120- and 180-day sentences for inmates who behave in prison.

Barclay said another provision of the new law mandates that every inmate being released from prison be given at least some form of post-supervision release. In the past, inmates who had completed the maximum sentence allowed by law were released without supervision.

The law also says low-risk defendants who have paid all restitution and have been compliant with the terms of probation for 12 months are eligible for an early discharge from supervision.

Bennett said the success of the law will depend on whether Community Corrections programs and local treatment providers are adequately funded and staffed. Because the bill has no mandated funding, he said, the success of the program will depend on adequate annual funding.

Bennett said he also has a concern about low-level offenders, such as forgers and auto burglary, who have presumptive sentences of five to seven months. It’s conceivable that such an offender could go through most of a presumed sentence with quick dips and 120- and 180-day prison sanctions – all before being formally sentenced.

Barclay said the law should help limit the growth of the state’s prison population. The Kansas Sentencing Commission projects that without the law, the state would add 300 inmates to its prison system over the next year, an increase that Barclay said would require the addition of 230 beds. The Sentencing Commission projects that the new beds won’t be needed with the law in place.

Barclay also said the sentencing commission projects that 2,000 inmates will be added to the system over the next decade. He said the new law won’t eliminate the need to add new beds eventually.

“It’s another tool in the tool box, but it’s not enough to forgo building altogether.” he said.