ACLU criticizes diversion policies in Kansas, calls Shawnee Co. an exception

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The ACLU of Kansas is criticizing county prosecutors across the state over how frequently they use diversion to resolve criminal cases. The civil rights organization claims they are under-utilizing the program, which can be an alternative to prison for low-level and non-violent offenders.

"Sometimes justice is giving somebody a second chance, giving them the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves," Shawnee Co. District Attorney Mike Kagay said.

While the ACLU found fault with many prosecutor's officer, they pointed to Kagay's as an exception. Kagay, for his part, called his policy strict but fair.

"Maybe they need some mental health treatment, maybe they need drug treatment, maybe it's anger management classes, and we can require those as a condition of our diversion," he explained.

The ACLU report says Kagay uses it in just over 8 percent of felony cases.

Twenty-three of Kansas' 105 counties do not offer diversions at all. In those that do, the policies fall solely in top the hands of elected county officials. Soon after Kagay was elected just over a year ago, he decided to revise Shawnee Co.'s policies, saying he wanted to make them more uniform and easier to understand.

"It's about equal opportunity and just being fair to every defendant and being consistent. That's been my focus,” he said.

For Kagay, diversion helps the community by providing those he's prosecuting the help or treatment they need. He adds that it's also more efficient than sending them through "that revolving door."

"I can prosecute them. I can have them sit in jail and I can put a conviction on their record and then let them go. And, then they'll come back again and the same thing happens again and again and again."

The ACLU's report also showed, as of October, Kansas prisons had an overcrowding problem.