TOPEKA—After two years of rigorous study and collecting input from a wide range of experts and stakeholders, the Ad Hoc Pretrial Justice Task Force delivered its final report to the Kansas Supreme Court today.
The 84-page Report to the Kansas Supreme Court makes 19 wide-ranging recommendations that include educating courts and the public about liberty as a basic tenet of our criminal justice system, considering amendments to existing laws to allow more options for pretrial supervision, and encouraging the assistance of counsel at the very first hearing before a judge.
Chief Judge Karen Arnold-Burger of the Kansas Court of Appeals served as chair of the task force. She said the report reflects the many voices of persons who participated in the review, whether as a member of the task force, an expert, or a stakeholder group.
“Everyone involved was deeply committed to thoroughly reviewing pretrial release from all perspectives to identify how Kansas judges can make informed decisions that respect our constitutional freedoms, uphold public safety, and fulfill the objective of getting people to show up for court,” she said. “The report reflects the ideals and concerns shared by all involved.”
Arnold-Burger noted research shows that, at any given moment, a little over half of the people in Kansas jails are there solely awaiting trial, unable or unwilling to post the monetary bond required for their release.
“Money bond is one tool judges use to reduce risk of flight, or to ensure the accused appears in court, but other options could be considered,” Arnold-Burger said. “One is pretrial supervision with no-contact conditions, or drug and alcohol testing, which are designed to protect individual and public safety and to encourage the defendant to appear in court as scheduled.”
Task force recommendations
The task force grouped its recommendations in categories based on where they apply in the process, from before arrest to trial. For example, the “general” category covers the need for education about the presumption of innocence and pretrial detention as the exception, as well as the need to collect data to measure the effectiveness of any changes in practice.
The “pre-charge” category discusses issuing notices to appear rather than arresting people for misdemeanor offenses, connecting people who have mental health or substance abuse issues to needed support before arrest or to treatment as part of a diversion program.
The “release decision” category discusses the need for uniform pretrial procedures, increased and earlier access to appointed counsel, and piloting more than one pretrial risk assessment approach, after which participating courts would recommend one to use statewide.
The “post-charge” category discusses the need for post-charge procedures to ensure timely review of release conditions, an option for offenders to voluntarily report after missing a court date to avoid unnecessary arrest, text messages to remind people of their court dates, and several options related to pretrial supervision.
Each recommendation includes an explanation of the rationale behind it, costs and funding associated with each, what it would take to implement, and a summary of stakeholder concerns.
Ad Hoc Pretrial Justice Task force formation and charge
The Ad Hoc Pretrial Justice Task Force was formed in November 2018 to examine current pretrial detention practices for criminal defendants in Kansas district courts, as well as alternatives to pretrial detention used to ensure public safety and encourage the accused to appear for court proceedings.
The task force was also directed to compare Kansas practices to effective pretrial detention practices and detention alternatives identified by other courts, and to use those comparisons to develop best practices for Kansas district courts.
The task force’s 15 members include judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and supervision officers.
Chief justice receives report, thanks task force
Chief Justice Marla Luckert received the report on behalf of the Supreme Court and thanked the task force and others for their contributions.
“Best practices for pretrial release and alternatives to detention continue to be a point of state and national discussion, so I’m glad we initiated this comprehensive review when we did,” Luckert said. “This report provides a good foundation for policy discussions as we consider the best ways to manage pretrial concerns in Kansas courts. I appreciate the enormous amount of time and effort put into this report and all the people who played a role in it.”
Executive summary of Report to the Kansas Supreme Court