Kansas lawmaker wants more input on criminal justice reform before final report

By: - October 19, 2021 2:16 pm

Rep. Gail Finney is seeking input from community stakeholders and other organizations with valuable insight on the issues plaguing Kansas’ criminal justice system. (Sept. 22, 2020, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A state representative hopes to bring in community stakeholders and organizations to provide additional insights for a criminal justice reform panel’s recommendations.

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, told members of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission she often hears from various organizations that have specific issues they see within the community. The panel of legislators, law enforcement and legal experts are working to finalize recommendations for a December report to the Legislature.

Even with little time, Finney requested these groups be allowed to speak to relevant topics and recommendations.

“A lot of people in the community want to know what we are actually doing to address some of these issues,” she said. “If we’re trying to impact the communities that we say we’re trying to, I think we should at least have an opportunity for them to at least say something to us every once in a while.”

The commission was created by the Legislature in 2019 to review all aspects of the criminal justice system and was extended for a second year with a narrower focus. The panel will draft specific propositions to be presented to the governor in a report by Dec. 1.

Among the groups Finney was interested in collaborating with was the governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice. The commission, focused on issues of racial inequalities across the board, also is planning to submit a final report in December.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, chairman of the criminal justice panel, suggested bringing the two groups together during the final subcommittee meeting on race. Bennett is on the subcommittee, which is preparing recommendations related to data collection and police departments’ use of gang lists.

“Our work is probably a little bit more on the pragmatic side of things just trying to change the very specific issues but there’s no reason we can’t at least hear each other out and make sure that we’re not at cross purposes at least,” Bennett said.

The criminal justice panel also hopes to hear from Hutchinson police chief Jeffrey Hooper on unanswered questions about Kansas Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training efforts to address race-related training and other concerns.

Other subcommittees will have final meetings in the coming weeks before submitting reports to the full commission Nov. 1. The proportionality and sentencing subcommittee report will focus on the Kansas Offender Registration Act — accessibility, penalties and an exit mechanism — implementation of pretrial drug programs and other recommendations to resubmit from last year’s commission report.

The Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission Subcommittee on Dual-Supervision is focused on ensuring better information-sharing standards between agencies.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kansas, was pleased to hear concrete ideas forming but asked that commissioners pause to consider if they were carrying out the mission of the panel to its full extent.

“Are we looking in our subcommittees at some of the other initiatives that are being embraced that we in the Legislature can wedge in these issues in 2022 to adopt as, sadly, we failed to do this year?” Haley said. “Are there some other agenda items that we’re leaving on the table?”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.