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The Health Maniacs

A new face in Douglas County DA’s office hopes to play a part in transforming criminal justice | News, Sports, Jobs

9 min read


photograph by: Contributed


Senior Assistant District Legal professional Jim Carpenter


The Douglas County District Attorney’s Place of work has employed a new prosecutor who will not prosecute.

Jim Carpenter, of Lawrence, joined the DA’s office in March as a senior assistant district legal professional. Carpenter has spent most of his vocation doing work with families and individuals with mental health and fitness difficulties, but he experienced grown restless with the operate he was executing in personal apply in Wyandotte County.

In Douglas County, Carpenter is collaborating on behalf of the DA’s workplace in the specialty courts, which incorporate the Behavioral Wellness Courtroom, Drug Court docket and the Restorative Justice Initiative — rising systems that do not contain standard prosecution.

Whilst he is utilized alongside a team of prosecutors and shares their title, Carpenter mentioned his career concerned a lot more of an advocacy, instead than adversary, purpose for legal offenders in the specialty courts. He has obtain to every thing in a criminal scenario file, but instead of using these materials to prosecute offenders, he will do the job with other courtroom advocates to continue to keep folks from likely to jail. His work will include things like a sort of firewall inside DA Suzanne Valdez’s place of work.

“We are screened off from what he is accomplishing in the courts,” Valdez said. “Anything he learns as element of the multidisciplinary staff in the court, he doesn’t share with us.”

‘Come work with us’

Carpenter wished to commit his vocation defending the setting. He acquired his bachelor’s diploma in biology and then a master’s in environmental scientific studies in advance of going to legislation school at the University of Florida in Gainesville, he mentioned. His wife was doing work on a PhD in anthropology, and they experienced two children in college, so he took the to start with position he could get, he claimed that work didn’t entail the surroundings, but it taught him some important lessons.

“I ended up doing the job for the Florida Point out Health and fitness and Rehabilitative Services. There, I was a staff lawyer,” Carpenter mentioned. “I was sworn in on a Wednesday and started off work the future Monday, and on Tuesday I experienced 40 circumstances by myself in courtroom. That is how I commenced.”

Carpenter mentioned his function in Florida symbolizing people taught him to be agile as an lawyer simply because he was representing customers in 14 counties and in front of 40 various judges, and he could be known as working day or night time to satisfy with a consumer in jail.

His journey to Kansas came when his wife was provided a position with the College of Kansas. She took the occupation, and he landed a placement with Kansas Lawful Providers in Wyandotte County in 1993, he mentioned. He was hired to perform on domestic violence instances under the then-new Violence Against Women Act.

It was with Kansas Authorized Providers in 1996 that he first satisfied Valdez, then a new legal professional.

“He properly trained me to be a attorney,” Valdez stated.m”He confirmed me about the courthouse and introduced me to judges and obtained me very effectively immersed in the group there, and I in no way forgot that.”

Carpenter remaining Kansas Authorized Companies to begin his very own legislation business in 1998 and used the up coming two decades doing divorce function, care-and-remedy conditions and advocating for small children in guardian ad litem scenarios.

Valdez hardly ever forgot how beneficial and well-informed Carpenter was, and that is why she believed to simply call on him not too long ago, she said.

The two were talking on the cellular phone, just catching up, when Valdez built Carpenter an exciting give, he claimed.

“She claimed ‘come operate with us,’ and I mentioned I do not like criminal legislation, and she explained ‘No, occur function with us and do every thing but criminal regulation,” Carpenter explained.

Valdez stated the nontraditional systems that Douglas County was developing, and her pitch was plenty of for Carpenter to want to give it a try, he explained.

Behavioral Well being Court

The Behavioral Wellbeing Courtroom, overseen by Douglas County District Choose Sally Pokorny, is intended to give people today whose criminal behavior can be linked to a psychological health difficulty a far better shot at keeping out of jail and out of long run hassle.

The courtroom is like an intense probation plan where in its place of possessing a one probation officer to report to, individuals have a dozen persons from different neighborhood solutions that fulfill in a significant team each and every 7 days for extra than a yr.

As with probation, Behavioral Health and fitness Courtroom individuals are subject to random drug and alcoholic beverages screens, plus feasible at-home searches. They are needed to maintain work and to give back again to the community by way of volunteer prospects. Not like probation, if contributors are thriving in Behavioral Wellness Courtroom, their costs are dropped and eventually expunged.

“They waive their Fourth Amendment (lookup and seizure) ideal, but the flip facet of that is that none of that can be utilised towards them by the prosecution,” Carpenter explained.

Carpenter mentioned that completing the extensive court docket software was not simple. The neighborhood service group customers all have a aim for the participants. Some group members target on the psychological well being of the members when other individuals are anxious with housing or transportation demands to make certain the members aren’t missing appointments or get the job done, he reported.

“I’m in there sort of as the hammer hanging more than everyone’s head, you know, indicating ‘Oh hey guy, which is ample, probably they should not be in here,’” Carpenter reported, of circumstances in which Behavioral Health Court docket proves an unsuitable match for a individual human being.

His 30 decades performing with psychological overall health circumstances, families suffering from domestic abuse and young children in the lawful program have provided him a superior thought of what will do the job and what won’t when attempting to end a particular variety of habits, he said.

The Behavioral Wellbeing Court docket has experienced 46 people today graduate from the application considering the fact that it begun in 2017, Carpenter said.

picture by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

These shadowboxes were produced by a graduate of the Behavioral Health and fitness Court docket. The 1 on the still left represents the graduate’s look at of the globe right before going by way of the system and has a shut chicken cage. The other represents how the individual felt afterward — with an open up cage and flying chicken. The graduate wished to stay anonymous given that the legal fees towards the graduate have been dropped and expunged.

Drug Court

The Drug Court docket has had less graduates, with only 6 men and women productively completing the method, but it commenced only in 2020, Carpenter noted. The courtroom, overseen by Choose Kay Huff, has the same purpose of an offender’s prices staying dropped, but it comes with a caveat.

“They have to plead guilty at their 1st hearing in Drug Court docket and then agree to all of the conditions of Drug Court docket,” Carpenter reported.

Offenders struggling with habit may have a more difficult time adhering to the procedures of the application, and by coming into a responsible plea at the start out, the effects for failure are higher than with the behavioral courtroom, as an incentive to folks to abide by by way of, Carpenter said.

“I have witnessed the workforce bend about backwards to try out and assist somebody get past a disaster. 1 time Judge Huff was quite certain in expressing ‘We’re not right here to punish men and women for possessing a crisis we’re listed here to assistance individuals get as a result of it,’” Carpenter mentioned.

Behavioral Health and fitness Court docket individuals who fail will nonetheless deal with prosecution with a correct to demo, although a participant in Drug Court will proceed straight to sentencing, Carpenter stated. Some offenders might be improved off having their odds with the standard court docket instead of moving into these kinds of an intensive supervision plan, he mentioned.

If offenders complete the Drug Court program, their guilty pleas are withdrawn and their charges are dropped, Carpenter stated.

Restorative justice

The restorative justice initiative, which has the intention of using mediation to get the job done out a fitting kind of justice, is still in its early phases in Douglas County, Carpenter mentioned.

DA Valdez stated that mediation under the restorative justice initiative is distinct from criminal mediation, which generally results in some form of punishment involving a responsible or no-contest plea followed by sentencing.

The mediation in the restorative justice process, by contrast, may perhaps result in the expenses in opposition to a defendant staying dropped completely, dependent on the needs of the sufferer in the case, she stated.

Carpenter explained prison mediation also doesn’t connect victims with offenders, though a main ingredient of the restorative justice initiative is to give victims a sizeable voice in what sort of cure satisfies the crime it may perhaps be that the sufferer really just needs to confront the defendant and clarify how the defendant’s motion damage them and afflicted their existence, he reported.

“That’s proving a obstacle just figuring out how to secure both equally the target and a defendant’s rights,” Carpenter claimed.

The software hasn’t gotten significantly traction nevertheless, but Carpenter mentioned he seemed forward to seeing it mature as the Lawrence group starts off to have an understanding of and take part.

More to appear

Carpenter stated he agreed to be part of the DA’s group due to the fact of the increasing emphasis in the culture to hold individuals out of jail and to place them on a path to good results. A single obstacle to that goal, he claimed, is a deficiency of sober-residing and supportive-housing models in the county.

Carpenter, a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Arranging Commission, reported he has watched as neighbors fought towards sober-housing initiatives transferring into their neighborhoods. Just one housing task he supported was last but not least authorised irrespective of the neighborhood’s fears, and years afterwards there have not been any problems, he claimed.

“It’s all about how you get people chatting the exact language and going in the similar path simply because everybody is coming at it with distinct factors of check out,” Carpenter reported.

Generating positive that folks have a safe and sound and sober-residing house to help restoration in its place of heading to jail is vital to the results of folks in these courses, Carpenter claimed.

Though Carpenter has a lot on his plate at his new task, he however hopes to see another program get off the ground.

“The newest one particular we are chatting about is Veterans Courtroom. The initial matter is to discover how numerous persons with military services support are basically in the criminal justice technique in Douglas County,” Carpenter said.

The place of work is performing to work out how a lot of veterans would qualify for a new plan and how to get those folks to participate. Often, though, veterans who struggle with criminal conduct are not constantly forthcoming with their armed forces background, he mentioned.

“The county has started out hoping to decrease the jail populace, and that continues to be the intention,” Carpenter claimed.

Specialty courts very likely emerged, in part, as a reaction to the required sentencing suggestions established by the Legislature, Carpenter speculated. The rules took major electric power absent from judges to weigh the severity of an individual case and designed a technique where a felony charge arrives with a blanket punishment in its place of a punishment that may better in shape the certain crime and conditions, he stated.

“To make the punishment more fitting and much more proper, it is justice as opposed to revenge that’s why I am accomplishing this. That’s the only motive I’d be in this business office,” Carpenter said.


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