A policy change that would have meant more people spending the night or weekend in the already crowded Jackson County jail was put on hold Wednesday after The Star asked Jackson County Executive Frank White's office for an explanation.
The county had planned to limit the hours that someone could bond out of jail to weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., as opposed to the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule now in effect.
That would have meant that anyone unfortunate enough to get arrested on Friday and not have his or her bail posted by 5 p.m. would spend the entire weekend in the Jackson County Detention Center, which has become notorious in recent years for its poor sanitation and security lapses.
Critics said the change, which was to take effect next Tuesday, would be unfair to prisoners who might otherwise get out of jail at night or on weekends for a few hundred dollars.
"This will have disastrous effects on defendants' rights to bond and due process of law," Kansas City defense attorney Dan Ross said.
He and others questioned the wisdom of the new policy, saying the shortened hours for bonding out prisoners would also mean more detainees jammed into the detention center in downtown Kansas City.
"They haven't got enough room now," bail bondsman Clarence Birk said. "They're sleeping on the floors now."
The policy change was announced on the county's website and in a letter sent by detention center director Diana Turner to "all law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, bondsmen."
Although dated April 16, some recipients first found it in their mailboxes Wednesday.
White's spokesperson Marshanna Hester was also unaware of the change until The Star informed her of it Wednesday afternoon. No explanation for the change was included on the website or in the letter from Turner.
She was appointed on Dec. 1 to head the corrections department on an interim basis after Joe Piccinini resigned amid growing concerns about jail conditions, including rapes and bad plumbing. Her appointment was later made permanent.
Late Wednesday, Hester issued a statement on behalf of Turner.
"These changes are being made to provide a safer environment for our staff and to reduce the risk to citizens coming to the jail after hours with large quantities of cash," Turner said. "Accepting bonds is the responsibility of the court and alternatives for after-hours bonding, including the possibility of digital applications, are under review. The majority of bonds after hours and on weekends are taken (for prisoners who are at) Kansas City Police Department substations, not the jail."
She went on to say that law enforcement, the courts, prosecutors and public defenders "have been engaged throughout this process."
She did not explain the extent of that engagement.
The spokesman for prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, Mike Mansur, said their office had been notified recently about the change, but he was unaware of any discussions on the issue.
The presiding judge for the Jackson County Circuit Court, John Torrence, declined comment, and the head of the local public defender's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Other area jails accept bond money around the clock, except when logistical concerns interfere, such as during meal times and lockdowns.
Because of paperwork issues and workload, it's not unusual for four to six hours to pass between the time a judge sets bond in Platte County and the jail there is able to release a prisoner, said Platte County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Jeffrey Shanks.
But generally no one who can make bail is ever held overnight or for the whole weekend, he said.
"We're a 24-7 operation," Shanks said.
The two jails operated by the city of St. Louis, however, do have hourly restrictions identical to the ones that Turner is proposing for Jackson County. A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson did not return a phone call requesting information on when that change was made and for what reason.