Editorials

Forcing more people to spend nights and weekends at the Jackson County jail is bad policy

The Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.
The Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City. File photo

A proposal to restrict bonding at the Jackson County jail to just weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. would create more problems than it solves.

Jackson County officials should permanently scrap a plan to abamdon the current 24-hour, seven-day-a-week schedule.

If this change were implemented, someone who missed a court date for a traffic ticket and got arrested on a Friday after 5 p.m. would spend the entire weekend in the Jackson County Detention Center. An arrest after hours should not preclude someone from posting bond.

The law allows pre-trial detention of individuals only if that person is a danger to the community. Jackson County officials should not ignore that fundamental right. And someone’s stay in jail should not be extended by a day or even multiple days just because that person was unlucky enough to be arrested after the clock struck five. How is that even remotely fair?

The county clumsily announced the policy change on its website this week without explanation or public discussion.

A letter to law enforcement agencies, courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and bondsmen was equally vague.

On Friday, detention center director Diana Turner said in a statement that the policy change has been delayed to allow for additional input. It should stay on the shelf.

“We believe it is in the best interest of our community that anyone eligible to be released by posting a bond is able to do so as quickly and conveniently as possible, including after hours and on weekends,” Turner said. “However, we must balance this belief with both our responsibility to operate a safe and secure facility, as well as within budgetary constraints.”

The changes, Turner said, were being made to provide a safer environment for staff and to reduce the risk to citizens coming to the jail after hours with large quantities of cash.

The thing is, posting bond at the jail is probably the safest option. It’s full of correction officers and police.

Some of Turner’s ideas to address after-hours bonding are worth exploring. They include the possibility of using digital applications. But eliminating the 24/7 option is not the answer.

Defense attorneys decried the plan to keep people in jail overnight or on weekends, citing defendants’ rights to bond and due process.

David Stuckman, vice president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, harshly criticized the proposal.

“That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard,” Stuckman said.

The wisdom of the proposal should be questioned. Most bonds, Stuckman said, are written at night or on the weekend.

The detention facility at 1300 Cherry St. has a history of poor sanitation and security lapses. A 2017 performance audit determined the safety of staff and inmates was at risk because of overcrowding and insufficient staffing. Prisoners are sleeping on floors as it is, bail bondsman Clarence Birk said. More people would only add to the unmitigated mess.

Other area jails routinely accept bond money around the clock. Jackson County should stay the course.

To limit an individual’s ability to post bond to just weekdays could potentially infringe on a person’s civil liberties.

Why would county officials put themselves in that position?

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