Judge: Keeping KAP would create ‘onerous’ burden of extra hearings on court

Published 3:39 pm Monday, February 13, 2017

District Court Judge Jeff Dotson says he was “not pleased, respectfully” when the Kentucky Supreme Court modified rules concerning private probation monitoring companies.
But the 50th District intends to follow those rules as it interprets them, even if that results in a floor-to-ceiling overhaul of how the court handles probation, Dotson said Friday.
“I have known that there was a push in the past from the Supreme Court that they may be attempting to eliminate private entities on probation and parole,” said Dotson, who admitted he didn’t like the idea of phasing out Kentucky Alternative Programs, a private company providing probation and parole monitoring services in many districts around the state.
“I’ve had no issues with (KAP),” he said, noting that KAP has been providing services in Boyle and Mercer counties since before he became a judge in the district.
But the elimination of KAP is exactly what is now happening in the 50th and 13th judicial districts. In the 50th, KAP’s Danville office is expected to be shuttered around the end of February, after a transition to the state Probation and Parole office is complete.
Dotson said under the new rules, anyone on probation being monitored by a private company could ask for a hearing and argue they are unable to afford the private company’s fees.
The sheer volume of additional hearings this would create would be “onerous” and overwhelming — thus the need to switch away from private probation companies under the new rules, Dotson said.
“This court was not pleased, respectfully, with the Supreme Court rules,” he said. “… I was not consulted, I don’t know if the district court systems (around the state) were consulted or not.”
Beyond simple monitoring, KAP provided a wide range of services to the district court, Dotson said.
KAP provided GPS monitoring for in-home incarceration; breathalyzer-type devices for vehicles in probation cases involving repeat DUI offenders; drug screenings; monitoring of insurance coverage for individuals charged with not maintaining insurance on their vehicles; verification that parolees completed required courses or trainings; and many other services, Dotson said.
Now, it appears the court will have to find individual providers for each of those services. Until those providers are found, some services may not be available; and once providers are found, those services could very well cost more for defendants than they did under KAP, Dotson said.
Dotson said he doubts the state Probation and Parole office will be able to provide many of the services KAP was — especially services involving mechanical devices such as car breathalyzers.
A call to Probation and Parole’s Frankfort media relations office asking for comment had not been returned Friday.
Dotson said he was reluctant to switch away from KAP, but “now it is done and this court is having to scramble to find other entities that can fulfill or provide the services. I”m not going to get an entity to replace KAP, but now I have to find a provider (for all the different services KAP provided).”
The company Guardian has already been lined up to provide drug screenings in some cases, including in family court, Dotson said.
Outside the 50th District (Boyle and Mercer counties) and the 13th District (Jessamine, Garrard and Lincoln counties), other districts have not stopped using KAP and are apparently not interpreting the new rules the same way.
KAP officials said earlier this week that they do not anticipate any other KAP offices besides the ones in Danville and Nicholasville closing.
But Dotson said he expects to see more courts eventually interpreting the rules the way the 50th and 13th districts have.
“I see it one way; two other judges see it the same way (as I do),” he said. “Whether or not every other jurisdiction in the state will see it that way, I just don’t know. … Different judges read the rules differently.”
The new rules were approved unanimously by the state’s Supreme Court justices in December. Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. sent an email to Kentucky’s court systems on Dec. 16, announcing the changes.
“As you are aware, the use of private probation monitoring services has become an issue of national importance and concern,” Minton wrote in the email, a copy of which was provided to The Advocate-Messenger by Leigh Anne Hiatt, a public information officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts.”While recognizing that (state law) authorizes the use of private probation companies and that some judicial districts in the Commonwealth use these companies, the Supreme Court also acknowledges the benefits that enhanced oversight and transparency would bring to this process.”
Minton’s email summarizes the major new requirements on private probation companies, including:
• providing “compliance documentation” on an annual basis;
• reporting monthly on pro bono referrals;
• maintaining “accurate and complete accounts of money received” from defendants;
• reporting to the courts “as often as the court requires” on defendants’ progress and compliance;
• maintaining policies for investigating complaints of abuse from defendants;
• maintaining proper training and certifications for staff;
• agreeing in writing not to prepare warrants or motions to the court concerning defendants being monitored; and
• agreeing in writing not to collect fines or fees due to the court itself.
The new rules also place new requirements on district courts, according to Minton’s email, including assuring that “no defendant’s probation is revoked based solely on the defendant’s inability to pay the private agency’s fee(s).”