Commonwealth of Kentucky
Office of the Attorney General
Capitol Building, Suite 118
700 Capitol Avenue
Frankfort, KY 40601-3449
Fax: (502) 564-2894
ATTORNEY GENERAL CONWAY ANNOUNCES ROCKET DOCKET INITIATIVE SAVES $2.8 MILLION IN THREE MONTHS
Projected savings of $11 million for the current fiscal year
FRANKFORT, Ky. (December 2, 2015) – Attorney General Jack Conway and members of the Prosecutors Advisory Council (PAC) today announced that the Rocket Docket Initiative, which was funded through comprehensive heroin legislation passed during the 2015 General Assembly, has saved taxpayers an estimated $2.8 million in local jail costs in just three months from August 1, 2015 to October 31, 2015. This savings is more than twice the amount of funding the initiative received for the entire fiscal year. The projected estimated savings for the current fiscal year is $11 million.
“Since being elected Attorney General, one of my top priorities has been to be fiscally responsible in fighting the drug epidemic that is crippling Kentucky communities,” said Attorney General Jack Conway. “Not only do these programs make the justice system faster and more efficient, they enable non-violent, lower-level offenders with substance abuse issues to receive rehabilitation and treatment. The substantial cost savings to local governments demonstrates the program is not only helping those with addiction, but also taking the burden off the taxpayers.”
In addition to the $2.8 million in incarceration savings during the first three months of implementation, 1,472 cases were completed or were pending in PAC-funded rocket dockets. This saves time and resources for stakeholders in the criminal justice system; including courts, prosecutors, grand juries, public defenders, and clerks. The initiative has also placed 361 defendants in drug treatment. Successful treatment reduces recidivism, which saves additional time and resources for the criminal justice system.
“The expansion and implementation of rocket dockets throughout the Commonwealth has been a tremendous financial benefit to our Commonwealth while ensuring public safety,” said Chris Cohron, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
Christian County Attorney Mike Foster added, “The Kentucky General Assembly committed itself to providing effective treatment for non-violent drug offenders as opposed to the extraordinary expense of long term incarceration. The Rocket Docket Initiative is a proven program that gives individuals the opportunity to become productive citizens, while also creating millions in savings for our state budget. The continued funding of rocket docket programs is an extraordinary opportunity to save lives and effectuate millions of dollars in savings.”
In 2015, PAC received $1 million in funding to implement, expand, or enhance rocket docket programs throughout the Commonwealth. Rocket dockets are a collaborative effort between the County and Commonwealth’s Attorneys to process the appropriate cases more swiftly through the judicial system, which creates cost savings and more quickly identifies defendants who would benefit from drug treatment. PAC funded 28 programs and collected data to measure their success. The funding for these grants was provided to PAC through the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which received funding from Senate Bill 192.
Paragraph 31 on Page 14 of the attached affidavit provides a summary of our position on this issue:
31. To be sure, my decision to seek certification of law is not motivated by any desire to seat all-white juries or to exclude African Americans or other minorities from jury service. In Mr. Doss’s case, the Commonwealth did not strike any African American juror. The Court, by random selection, struck the lone African American juror. Then, Judge Stevens dismissed the entire panel of properly qualified jurors because of that random strike. My decision to seek certification of law is motivated by a desire for the law to be clear to judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, defendants, victims, witnesses, and potential jurors and for there to be uniformity amongst the courts. Importantly, the questions certified include not only whether striking a jury panel that includes only white jurors, by no action of the prosecution or defense, is correct, but also-if such a dismissal is correct, how additional jury selection should proceed. That Judge Stevens has presumed and proceeded to tell the world through social media that my actions were dictated by discriminatory attitudes, not only offends me, but leads me to reasonably conclude that Judge Stevens cannot be fair and impartial on cases in which I or my assistants are involved.
As explained by Justice Frankfurter:
The judicial process demands that a judge move within the framework of relevant legal rules and the covenanted modes of thought for ascertaining them. He must think dispassionately and submerge private feeling on every aspect of a case. There is a good deal of shallow talk that the judicial robe does not change the man within it. It does. The fact is that on the whole judges do lay aside private views in discharging their judicial functions. This is achieved through training, professional habits, self-discipline and that fortunate alchemy by which men are loyal to the obligation with which they are entrusted. But it is also true that reason cannot control the subconscious influence of feelings of which it is unaware. When there is ground for believing that such unconscious feelings may operate in the ultimate judgment, or many not unfairly lead others to believe they are operating, judges recuse themselves. They do not sit in judgment. They do this for a variety of reasons. The guiding consideration is the administration of justice should reasonably appear to be disinterested as well as be so in fact.
Due to public interest concerning the unique jury selection practice of one circuit court judge in Kentucky, attached are copies of the certification of law request and Supreme Court order granting the request for oral arguments.
There are several important points to be emphasized.
Our request for guidance is important because we believe the right of a properly empaneled juror to serve is fundamental to our judicial process. Kentucky courts have consistently held the process used in Jefferson County is fair and insures all persons regardless of race or gender the opportunity to serve. In Rodgers v. Com., 285 S.W.3d 740, 759 (Ky. 2009), the Kentucky Supreme Court clearly stated,
“It is not enough to allege merely that a particular jury or a particular venire failed to mirror the community, for . . . defendants are not entitled to a jury of any particular composition, . . . but the jury wheels, pools of names, panels, or venires from which juries are drawn must not systematically exclude distinctive groups in the community and thereby fail to be reasonably representative thereof.”
The United States Supreme Court held in Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 404 (1991),
“[A] defendant has no right to a petit jury composed in whole or in part of persons of [the defendant’s] own race”; however, “he or she does have the right to be tried by a jury whose members are selected by nondiscriminatory criteria.”
Our office values diversity. Despite assertions to the contrary, we do not advocate all white juries. We do advocate juries selected in accordance with our Supreme Court Rules. The rules require the initial group be selected in a nondiscriminatory process to allow for the best cross-section of the community. That group is qualified to serve until they are called for a specific case where individual jurors might be removed either by the court, at the request of a party, or randomly
For nearly two decades, I have served on local and state committees advocating changes to our statutes and Rules to increase juror participation. These changes include using any government issued ID to get on jury rolls, increased jury pay, and requiring employers to pay jurors’ salaries while in jury service. Such changes would benefit all jurors, generally, and economically disadvantaged jurors, specifically.
Because we are committed to the right of jurors to serve regardless of race or gender, we have asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to review the practice of setting aside a properly empaneled jury. This practice of setting aside a properly empaneled jury has been adopted in only one of the over 200 trial courts in the Commonwealth and is worthy of review.
Thomas B. Wine
Commonwealth’s Attorney for the 30th Judicial Circuit
With heroin arrests rising nearly 700 percent in the last four years, Jefferson County prosecutors are taking a new approach to some of those cases, emphasizing addiction treatment over jail.
By utilizing a “rocket docket” model, prosecutors said heroin users ideally would get rehab help more quickly, spend less time in the court system and have lower chances of committing new crime.
The need for such a program was clear, said Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Frank Dahl. Between 2011 and 2014, heroin possession arrests by Louisville Metro Police rose from 190 to 1,500.
“I think it’s in everybody’s best interest for something like this to succeed,” he said. “This system now, the status quo, isn’t working.”
Too often defendants go through detox in the city jail, which has been forced in recent years to ramp up its medical staff as more and more addicted inmates face heroin withdrawal behind bars. Criminal cases can drag on for months in the court system, leaving some released defendants vulnerable to relapse. They reuse. They re-offend. And the cycle starts anew.
But it’s unclear how the goals of the new docket will match up with the existing rehab resources available in Louisville, some of which have been strained for years by the heroin epidemic.
Local providers, such as the Healing Place and the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, said the docket is a welcome and much needed approach for dealing with addiction in the criminal justice system. But they, too, said it’s too early to determine the level of need the docket will generate.
Dahl said his team is working to keep lines of communication open with service providers to make sure defendants are channeled into a community that can help.
“I think everyone in this day and age gets that addicts are suffering from a mental health addiction,” he said. “Locking them up and throwing away the key is not going to fix the problem.”
How it will work
Rocket dockets are simple in concept — prosecutors from both the commonwealth and county attorney’s offices bypass the grand jury process on low level offenses to expedite cases. This docket will have the dual goal of speeding up cases and channeling defendants into community provider rehab and not into an already-full jail.
The new initiative is actually an expansion on an existing rocket docket program, which started in Jefferson County in 1993.
The docket expansion is just one of the aftereffects this year’s of Senate Bill 192 — the Heroin Bill. Lawmakers allocated $1.2 million specifically for the creation or expansion of rocket dockets across the state.
The $108,000 grant Jefferson County secured will cover two prosecutors through next June. The prosecutors — current Assistant Commonwealth Attorneys Diane Arnold and John Balenovich — will work low-level heroin possession and trafficking cases.
When a heroin-related arrest is made in Louisville, it will be the goal of the two heroin rocket docket prosecutors to quickly connect with the case.
“We’re trying to identify high risk heroin addicts who are in need of immediate treatment,” said Dahl, who serves as the division chief of narcotics unit and was designated as a special heroin prosecutor.
Dahl estimates they will handle 30 to 40 heroin-related cases each week, which they’ll screen for a number of factors to see if rocket docket would be a good fit.
A defendant’s past criminal history, current charges and circumstances of the arrest will all be considered to weed out those determined by prosecutors to be hard-core criminals and traffickers from addicts who commit crime to feed their illness.
By finding the cases quickly in district court, heroin rocket docket prosecutors can intervene, asking judges at the bond-setting stage to consider conditional discharge from custody with mandatory treatment options in lieu of imprisonment. Prosecutors could make similar offers again at the sentencing phase, Dahl said.
A heroin possession case could be cut from six to seven months down to 30 to 60 days, said Commonwealth Attorney’s Office spokesman Jeff Cook.
Only defendants who want to cooperate in the rocket docket process are eligible, Dahl noted. They’ll have to agree to plead guilty, he said, and judges will have the option of sentencing them to mandatory rehab options in the community. And if those terms aren’t fulfilled, Dahl said, harsher sentencing could await.
“If everything goes well, hopefully we’ll never hear from them again,” Dahl said. “Hopefully for each of them it’s a long term recovery.”
The finer details of how defendants will be assessed and matched with community providers, who will follow up with them to ensure they’re completing treatment and who will notify prosecutors if they’re not compliant have yet to be worked out.
“We’re kind of an experiment of one right now,” Dahl said.
Getting to treatment
The heroin rocket docket team has spent much of this week preparing for a full launch Aug. 10, coordinating with judges and assistant county attorneys to figure out procedures and protocols. They’re also reaching out to the community addiction treatment providers — critical to the aims of the initiative.
Diane Hague is the director of the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Addiction Center, one of the Seven County Services.
Hague said the rocket docket will hopefully help more people get treatment they need to get their lives back on track.
“In the treatment area, we can do lots of things,” she said. “But if someone decides they don’t have to do it or it’s too hard, what can we say? We have nothing to hold over anyone’s head.”
The extent of the court’s follow-through will be a key factor to the success of the rocket docket, Hague said. Dahl noted the policy is still being developed, but that he envisions a system where the courts and providers communicate about defendant compliance.
The addiction center offers inpatient and outpatient services and accepts private insurance, healthcare benefits such as Medicaid and also covers some costs with indigent funds.
Determining how heavily the docket will rely on their resources is difficult, Hague said, given the newness of the initiative. A variety of factors, including a defendant’s addiction history, past treatment attempts and insurance status, need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine which provider and what type of treatment is most appropriate.
The addiction center is considering hiring a counselor to assist prosecutors in that screening process.
“There is no one treatment fits all,” Hague said, adding that some defendants will need long-term inpatient care, others will need intensive outpatient care while living at a halfway house while some might only need detox care followed by Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Treatment providers are in a wait and see mode, Hague said. She added there are fewer community treatment beds for those without private insurance and healthcare benefits such as Medicaid.
There’s a two-day wait for such beds at the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Addiction Center. At the Healing Place, another treatment provider, president Karyn Hascal recalled a day two weeks ago where the nonprofit turned away 30 people wanting free detox beds by 9 a.m.
Still, Hascal said the new docket is a progressive move she thinks will be successful, as it intervenes early in the criminal justice process with treatment, “striking while the iron is hot.”
Hague, too, said she is optimistic the rocket docket will connect people to appropriate treatment and ultimately save lives.
“We all have the same goal. We want the same people in treatment,” Hague said. “Well, let’s see how we get them there.”
Reporter Matthew Glowicki can be reached at (502) 582-4989. Follow him on Twitter at @MattGlo.
Between 2011 and 2014, heroin possession arrests by Louisville Metro Police rose from 190 to 1,500.
Two experienced prosecutors are heading the new initiative, funded by a $108,000 grant made possible by the Heroin Bill passed in the state legislature in the spring.
Prosecutors will evaluate cases individually based on many factors, including past criminal history, current charges and addiction history.
It’s not yet clear how many defendants will be helped by the new docket or which community treatment providers will be most utilized.
Two of the largest addiction treatment providers, The Healing Place and the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, agree the new effort is much needed, though they aren’t yet sure what volume of defendants to expect.