Senate Bill 123
The Kansas state Senate Bill 123 passed in 2003 established a program that provided mandatory community-based drug treatment for nonviolent offenders convicted of a preliminary offense for drug possession.
The main goals of the program were to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of prison, require them to participate in a mandatory 18-month drug-treatment program, and rehabilitate them so they could become non-offending, productive members of society.
A 23-year-old woman told a Barton County District Judge she would rather go to prison and get treatment than receive probation and go back to drugs.
Among the addicts who appeared before Judge Ron Svaty on Friday, Stacey Dawn Henderson stood out.
“She is addicted to methamphetamine,” defense attorney Matt Bristow said. Arrested last August, she is facing her first felony conviction, for possession. At his client’s request, Bristow entered a motion for an upward departure from the standard sentence, which is probation. The underlying sentence is 12-14 months.
Bristow said this was the first time a client has asked for a motion for an upward departure.
“I’ve never done one, either,” Svaty said.
Typically, if the prosecution seeks more than the standard sentence, aggravating circumstances are cited. In this case, the defense argued Henderson is not amenable to probation.
“She wishes to be confined in the Topeka women’s prison,” Bristow said, mentioning the Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program at that facility.
Henderson testified that she has used meth since she was 14 years old.
“I’m not capable of stopping it. I’ve only been clean for a little bit; being out there I’m tempted to use,” she said. Henderson said she has received “a lot of” out-patient treatment, and in-patient treatment once, but was only able to stay clean for about a month. Since moving to Barton County in the last couple of years her drug use has increased.
“You aren’t doing this just to punish yourself because you haven’t been successful?” Svaty asked.
“No, I’m doing it to better myself.”
Henderson never finished high school or earned a GED diploma, but she wants to improve, Bristow said. “I think she’s very clearly articulating her wishes.”
No ruling Friday
Svaty said his “gut instinct” was not to grant the request. If Henderson goes straight to prison, the highest sentence under state guidelines would be 14 months. She might not even have time to get into the treatment program.
“I’d like a chance to think about this,” the judge said. Henderson will return to court at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, her attorney will contact the correctional facility to learn more about treatment options.
There was a full court docket Friday, with criminal case hearings continuing past 5 p.m. Other addicts who came before Judge Svaty on Friday included Matthew McHale, Kenneth Gray and Rory Wright.
Matthew Jordan McHale was charged with criminal threat, and also with probation violation. The new charge stemmed from Nov. 6, 2015, when he stood outside Eisenhower Elementary School and shouted at a woman. That caused the school to be locked down, Assistant County Attorney Amy Mellor said.
“Mr. McHale was high, jumping up and down on bleachers and yelling at a school nurse,” Mellor said, asking the judge to revoke his probation. She noted he has also been to rehab five times.
McHale said he couldn’t remember what happened that day and didn’t know the victim. “I would like to be reinstated (to Community Corrections) and given another chance,” he said.
“I don’t like to put people in jail that are addicts, and that’s what you are,” Svaty said. “I normally try to put drug users on probation. But I have to protect the public. You can’t even remember what you did.”
McHale was sentenced to eight months for criminal threat and his probation was revoked. Because the crime was committed while on probation for a felony, his sentence must run consecutive to the sentence in the 2014 case.
Jobs in Ellsworth
Kenneth Ray Gray was sentenced Friday to two 30-month terms for his conviction on two drug felonies. Probation was recommended as part of plea negotiations, and the judge honored that agreement. Gray said he worked as a machinist in Great Bend for four years, but had been laid off. He last used drugs “a couple of months ago.”
“A couple of businesses in Ellsworth are always looking for machinists,” Svaty said, naming two companies.“Good luck to you, sir.”
Gray will be on post-release supervision for two years.
Rory Randale Wright, 43, was facing having his parole revoked. Court officials agreed they don’t want to send him to prison, but they need to be sure he can go directly to in-patient treatment. The problem is finding a program.
Wright will next go to Pawnee County to face a misdemeanor charge of escape from custody and a similar parole violation, Mellor said.
Wright’s attorney, Benjamin Fisher, sought a reduced sentence of probation with in-patient drug treatment. He noted that his client suffers from a traumatic head injury and that he returned to meth use after a therapist prescribed Adderall, a stimulant commonly used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Fisher and Svaty both commented on that being a bad choice for a meth addict.
“He does understand he has some responsibility in this,” Fisher said, adding Wright must let the next person who evaluate him know of his addiction.
“I take full responsibility,” Wright said to the judge. “I apologize for being back in your court.”
“You have an incredible criminal record,” Svaty said.
“I want to grant the motion,” the judge added, but only if Wright can go directly to in-patient treatment. The beds at Larned State Hospital are full at least until August, he was told.
“We’ve got to come up with something that’s going to work,” Svaty said. “If he gets out-patient — he’s done. He’ll never make it.”
The solution was a 60-day jail sentence to follow any time Wright spends in the Pawnee County Jail. That may give Wright time to be accepted into treatment. He will also face two years of post-release supervision.