Voters may get a flash of déjà vu when they look at the ballot for the Republican nomination for Johnson County sheriff.
The Aug. 7 contest between incumbent Frank Denning and challenger Ken Smith is a rematch of four years ago, with many of the same issues. The winner will be unopposed in the November general election.
Smith, of Lenexa, said his main issue is to correct what he called the “fiscal insanity” of the current sheriff. For example, Smith said the cost of housing a jail inmate in Johnson County is about $103 per day, which is above the national average of $60 per day. And he faulted the county for catering three hot meals a day without making the inmates work.
One of Smith’s more controversial ideas in the 2008 election was for the introduction of chain gangs for jail inmates who have been convicted of crimes and are serving a sentence. The Mission police lieutenant has not backed away from that proposal, saying he still thinks it would help deter criminals from breaking the law again.
He also said that if elected, he would work with judges and prosecutors to take a hard line on repeat offenders, with maximum sentences, no early release or plea bargaining.
Denning, who’s been in office 11 years, disputes the cost figures and says programs he’s implemented have cut jail costs by providing alternatives to jail for the mentally ill. Because of medication and extra evaluation time, he said, it is especially expensive to jail a mentally ill person who has been charged with a crime. The average daily cost for a mentally ill inmate is $128 with an average stay of 72 to 78 days, compared with $43 per day and a 17-day average stay for a minimum-security inmate.
Denning, of Edgerton, said his program gets mental health case workers involved from the beginning, when the police are called. Then police and the case worker connect the subject with mental health services, rather than jail them. This cuts down on the cost of incarceration, he said.
Similarly, Denning pointed to a one-year-old program preparing inmates for re-entry to the community after they serve their sentences. The program addresses unemployment, addiction, anger management and other problems and helps offenders stay out of jail, he said.