Lincoln County approves Rocket Docket initiative

Published 3:19 pm Thursday, October 6, 2016

STANFORD – Lincoln County is preparing to implement a new program that aims to speed up the judicial process for non-violent, low-level drug offenders and connect those with substance abuse problems to treatment sooner – all while saving taxpayer’s money. 
It’s called the ‘Rocket Docket’ initiative and it was born out of last year’s anti-heroin legislation which designated $1.2 million to the Prosecutors Advisory Council (PAC) to expand the use of the program in controlled substance cases. 
Lincoln County Jailer Rob Wilson and County Attorney Daryl Day both spoke to the fiscal court last week about the benefits of the program and why they believe it’s worth funding for $15,000. 
“It’s primarily designed for people who are incarcerated on a lot of drug-related offenses and it’s a way of moving them through the court system a little bit quicker – not to violate their rights but to get them to (rehabilitation), get them to treatment and things that they need that we just can’t provide in the jail, especially when we’re running 150 people in a 72-bed jail,” said Day during the Sept. 27 meeting. “We don’t have the space or the manpower to do that.”
The Rocket Docket initiative is designed as a cost-savings program for the county as well, Day added. 
The $15,000 put up by the county will be allocated among the collaborating parties with $10,000 going to an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney who will appear in district court to make felony offers, which Day said will most likely include some kind of drug rehabilitation program. From there, defendants will appear in district court, enter a guilty plea and receive their sentence. 
Day said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Neal Tucker has agreed to oversee the program for $7,800 over the six months and the other $5,000 will go to the county attorney’s office for overtime that will be needed to fill out extra paperwork. 
“We have people who are sitting for 100 to 120 days awaiting trial or awaiting resolution to their case and they’re not getting this help so we’re just delaying the inevitable,” Day said. “And in some situations, they’re sitting so long, if it takes a year to serve, they’re served out before we ever get them sentenced.” 
While defendants spend that time waiting in jail, they’re not getting help for the underlying problems that landed them there in the first place, he said.
Day said if the program works and ends up helping people while saving the county money, he’s confident that the PAC and attorney general’s office will provide funding to offset a substantial amount of the cost. 
Judge-Executive Jim Adams said the program will begin Jan. 1 of next year through June 30. 
Lincoln County Jailer Rob Wilson said the county has an opportunity to save a large amount of money by getting defendants’ cases resolved at a faster pace.
“We have had several cases since I’ve been in office where people come in on a felony charge and they sit anywhere from 200 to 300 days in jail,” he said. 
“What’s happening through the process, they’re getting all of this time in the county jail and once they go and get sentenced and become a state inmate, we have lost that time off of our budget – anywhere from $11,000 to $15,000 per inmate over that time,” he said. “What the state will say is ‘credit for time served’ which means that those days our tax dollars pay for at the county level counts towards their state time and we’re never reimbursed. It’s just lost.” 
If defendants are sentenced in seven days and become state inmates, then the county begins to make money. 
“I think this is a good deal,” he said. “Rockcastle does it and they generally keep less than 30 county inmates at all times because they are turning them over to state inmates very quickly,” he said. 
Only 30 inmates would be a nice goal, Adams said. Lately, the Lincoln County Regional Jail, has seen an average of 100 to 150 inmates at a time. 
“To me, that is the key component because as much as the jail costs us, the societal impact, the financial impact from the crime and from the people who can’t get off the drugs is 10 to 50 times what it’s costing this county financially to support the jail,” Day said. 
Wilson said if sending someone to jail cured the problem, they would only have about 10 inmates in the jail right now. 
“The majority of our county inmates that we have are repeat offenders and those repeated offenses are drug-related,” he said. “Sending someone to jail is not fixing the problem. It’s simply getting them clean for 30 to 90 days and then they’re right back out again.” 
Day said a majority of the shoplifting, thefts, and burglary offenses in the county are drug-related. 
Magistrate David Faulkner said the drug problem is the biggest problem the county faces today. 
“There is no question in my mind that we can invest $15,000 and actually save money the first year without any question,” Faulkner said. “But the biggest problem we have in this county and country today is drugs. It irks me beyond belief that we can’t get these people help. They’re addicted and addiction is a disease. They need help from an educational standpoint and maybe from a medical standpoint.” 
Faulkner agreed that putting addicts in jail doesn’t solve anything. 
“This is a drop in the bucket to what we spend trying to keep this county safe,” he said. “I am 100 percent in favor of the $15,000 (investment).” 
Wilson said last week LCRJ admitted the sixth female under the age of 30 who was pregnant and detoxing from heroin in the last two months.
“We are averaging around three a month of pregnant females detoxing from heroin,” he said. “We’ve got to fix this.” 
Amy Stevens, a local resident known for her work with current and recovering addicts, approached the court about a central location to provide health and drug rehabilitation information to addicts and a place for them to find follow-up help when released from jail. 
The program is called Helping Our Prisoners Escape (HOPE) but with no central location, Stevens said she is meeting with addicts in need at all hours of the night in random locations across the county and putting herself at risk. 
“I stay with them so they won’t do drugs,” Stevens said. “I have so many people who are ready to go at this full force. Once they get out of jail, if someone doesn’t believe in them and follow through with them, they’re going to go back to drugs.” 
Adams told Stevens he plans to seek clarity on insurance liability regarding the idea and the court would work to find an open location for the HOPE group to use. 
“Let me check on the insurance and make sure we’re good with them. I don’t foresee any of the court members objecting to some sort of agreement,” Adams said. 
The court voted unanimously to approve the $15,000 to fund the Rocket Docket initiative. 

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