City changes requirements for early release from jail

By LESLIE COLLINS
Northeast News 
September 19, 2012 


Early release from jail recently contributed to the deaths of two individuals, said Judge Joseph Locascio of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Municipal Division 202.

“Municipal Court is trying to deal with the root problems of criminal behavior and often times that’s drugs and mental illness,” he said.

In the case of Donald Duncan, 55, and Heather Brown, 32, both had been jailed at the Jackson County Detention Center and were awaiting a bed at a community drug and alcohol treatment center.

Due to overcrowding, both received an early release from jail in July without the consent of the sentencing judge. At the time, the city’s ordinance didn’t require early release approval from the sentencing judge.

Within 24 hours of being released, Duncan resorted to drinking alcohol, further dehydrating his body on a day where temperatures soared to 106 degrees, Locascio said. Duncan died of heat exhaustion.

Shortly after her release, Brown, who was a PCP addict, was murdered and found in a car at 3919 Kensington.

“I was very saddened, disappointed and frustrated,” Locascio said of learning about their deaths.

With more time in custody, Duncan and Brown could have turned their lives around, he said.

“There are certain people in the community that because of their addiction, they have no ability to control their behavior,” Locascio said. “That’s where the courts have an opportunity to step in and intervene in their lives.”

Early release from jail undermined that intervention, however, Locascio said.

To prevent similar instances from occurring in the future, both Locascio and Judge Ardie Bland, presiding judge of Municipal Division 205, approached the city about changing the current ordinance.

During the Sept. 13 Kansas City City Council meeting, City Council members approved amending Chapter 44 of the Code of Ordinances. The change stipulates that if a prisoner in a correctional facility is sentenced by a judge in circuit court, he or she can’t be released early without written permission from the sentencing judge. Also, if a prisoner in a correctional facility is sentenced by a municipal judge, early release can’t be granted if the municipal judge specified at the time of sentencing that the person should not be released early. Early release is also subject to conditions specified by the municipal judge at the time of sentencing.

This will allow sentencing judges to create a priority of who can be released early in the event of overcrowding, Locascio said.

Locascio added that the change will directly impact Historic Northeast, since a high number of those sentenced in drug court live in Northeast. If possible, those with addictions shouldn’t be released early from jail, he said.

Bland added that the ordinance change will “help us administer justice in
Kansas City, Mo.”

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