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Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says

Douglas County Jail

A story related last month at a Douglas County Commission meeting of an inmate in the county jail has criminal justice officials shaking their heads.

The story, shared during public comment, is of an unidentified Lawrence man who has been in jail for weeks following his arrest on a single charge of possession of marijuana. The story doesn’t add up, Undersheriff Gary Bunting and Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said, because in Lawrence, people are issued citations for simple marijuana possession, not arrested.

“There’s this misconception out there that the jail is filled with people arrested for smoking marijuana,” Bunting said. “That’s just not the case.”

Bunting has documentation that pot smokers or other misdemeanor offenders, especially those awaiting trial, are not filling up the Douglas County jail. Such inmates aren’t the reason the county is seeking voter approval this spring of a half-cent sales tax to fund a $44 million, 179-bed expansion of the jail, he said.

What type of inmates are causing that need? Felons and people accused of felonies.

Bunting said that conclusion is clear from a new report his office has created.

The report details the Friday, Feb. 2 inventory of the county jail’s inmate population. Although the numbers are just for one random day, county officials believe they are representative of the typical population at the jail.

The numbers show that of the 246 inmates in the custody of Douglas County on Feb. 2, 182 were either charged or convicted of a felony in Douglas County. In addition, 11 other inmates were being held in Douglas County awaiting transfer on out-of-county warrants.

Adding those two categories together produces 193 inmates. The Douglas County Jail’s capacity is 186.

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To get a better idea of what types of inmates are in custody in the ...

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The numbers further reveal that many of those in custody likely will be in jail for quite some time, given the serious nature of their charges generally requires significant amounts of court time.

For instance, there were 14 inmates in jail on murder or attempted murder charges. It is not uncommon for murder suspects who aren’t offered or can’t make bail to be in jail for more than a year while their criminal cases progress.

County officials believe the jail inventory shows a large number of inmates charged with offenses that members of the public would agree shouldn’t be subject to pretrial release programs, house arrest or other such initiatives. Among those charges are:

• Rape: 4 inmates

• Indecent liberties with or sexual exploitation of a child: 7 inmates

• Aggravated assault/battery: 21 inmates

• Aggravated assault/battery on a law enforcement officer: 4 inmates

• Aggravated robbery/robbery: 11 inmates

• Aggravated burglary: 4 inmates

• Assault, battery and domestic battery: 32 inmates

• Assault/battery on a law enforcement officer: 7 inmates

• Burglary: 9 inmates

• Felony theft: 8 inmates.

• Criminal threat: 6 inmates

• Distribution or possession of opiates and heroin: 30 inmates

Opponents of the jail expansion don’t deny that there’s a need for those accused of serious crimes to be in jail. But Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, a group that opposes the jail expansion, said the one-day snapshot of the jail’s population based on inmates’ charges was of limited value.

The inventory doesn't provide answers of why the jail's population started increasing so rapidly in 2015. Magnuson said more data-driven research into the delays in criminal case processing in Douglas County District Court and other factors contributing to the increase was needed before the county considered a jail expansion.

Indeed, there are questions about how long it takes to resolve some cases in Douglas County District Court. On Feb. 2, one first-degree murder suspect logged his 1,054th day in the county jail, earning the distinction of being the longest-serving inmate in county custody.

As previously reported, statistics from the state’s judicial office show that in fiscal year 2017, 12.8 percent of all felony cases in Douglas County District Court were pending for more than 12 months. Of the 31 judicial districts in the state, that was the sixth highest rate. It was the highest rate of any of the urban counties in Kansas. Local judicial officials have yet to explain the reasons behind those numbers.

The Feb. 2 report does show there are a significant number of inmates in the jail whose most serious offenses are misdemeanors. The daily log showed that there were 53 inmates who were in jail for nothing more serious than a misdemeanor offense.

The numbers, however, also show there are very few who are awaiting trial on a misdemeanor case. In other words, the number of people who are sitting in jail on a relatively minor offense because they can’t make bail was small on this particular day. Of the 53 misdemeanor inmates, only six of them were awaiting trial in Douglas County District Court. The remaining 47 were serving court-ordered sentences. Unlike most sentences for felony offenses, sentences for misdemeanors are served in a county jail rather than a state prison.

Mike Brouwer, director of the jail’s re-entry program, said the low number of people awaiting court cases reflected the success of the county’s pretrial release program, which targets newly arrested misdemeanor offenders and nonperson felony offenders for release from the jail with no bond and under various levels of supervision. It was introduced in late 2016, and there are now about 100 people diverted to pretrial release at any given time, he said.

It is probable some of the six misdemeanor inmates in jail Feb. 2 who were awaiting trial were later released through the program, Brouwer said. Those newly arrested inmates were being assessed for release when the inventory was completed, he said.

The longest-serving pretrial inmate on the misdemeanor primary list was a 22-year-old woman who had been in jail for 15 days after being arrested on a charge of shoplifting. She had past arrests for DUI and driving on a suspended license and two failures to appear.

As for the 47 people serving sentences for misdemeanor crimes, in some cases those sentences can be significant. On Feb. 2, there were eight inmates who had already served 100 days or more on misdemeanor sentences. The longest-serving inmate had served 302 days for misdemeanor theft, possession of drug paraphernalia and interference with a law enforcement officer, among other charges.

For some, that may raise questions about why judges are handing down such sentences for misdemeanor offenses. The sheriff’s office plays no role in the sentencing of inmates, but Bunting said looking at the detailed histories of each inmate is helpful in understanding why judges hand down such sentences.

“We do have individuals here whose primary charges appears to be lesser offenses,” he said. “If you dig into why they are in custody, you’ll find multiple charges. They are lumped into one of these misdemeanor charges, but they have other things going on, too.”

Sixteen of the inmates convicted of misdemeanors were serving time for traffic offenses, such as driving on a suspended license, having no insurance, trying to flee police, hit-and-run or tampering with an interlock device.

Many of those incarcerated for traffic or other misdemeanor offenses got there because they failed to appear for court dates and have racked up multiple offenses.

“People may say, ‘They are just in there for traffic offenses,’” Bunting said. “Yes, but it’s the third time they’ve been arrested for driving while suspended or they’ve had multiple failures to appear. The judges do want to give people chances. But I think they reach a point when people keep doing the same thing over and over again, that they say, ‘You need to spend a little time in jail.’”

More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus

• May 14, 2018 — County clerk reports that about 40 percent of Proposition 1 ballots have been returned by eve of deadline

• May 9 — Latest debate in sales tax election: How far can the county go in pushing for a ‘yes’ vote?

• May 8 — Proposition 1 brochures removed from County Treasurer’s Office counter after citizen complains

• May 7 — Proposition 1 ballots coming in at ‘impressive’ rate; county clerk says turnout could exceed 45 percent

• April 30 — Jail referendum fact check: A look at what both sides aren’t saying about the heated campaign

• April 30 — Midcase mental health evaluations for Douglas County jail inmates have increased

• April 30 — How much is violent crime up in Douglas County? Either a lot or very little, depending on which statistics you look at

• April 24 — A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion

• April 23 — Americans for Prosperity campaigning against sales tax in county referendum

• April 22 — At forum, Douglas County commissioner explains 'what if' option if sales tax referendum fails

• April 22 — Get ready to vote: Questions and answers on the Douglas County half-cent sales tax ballot question

• April 22 — 4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents

• April 20 — County says Justice Matters using wrong law to try to force mental health vote; group plans to start petition drive on Saturday

• April 18 — Douglas County leaders learn about first participant in diversion program for female inmates; Thellman cites Constitution on jail expansion issue

• April 17 — Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017 to reverse 5-year trend

• April 17 — Douglas County counselor: Meeting with Justice Matters about proposed petition would not be appropriate

• April 17 — Despite campaign literature to the contrary, county officials confirm there’s no legal finding that Douglas County Jail must be expanded

• April 16 — Douglas County legal counselor finds proposed Justice Matters petition legally invalid, but group says it can be fixed

• April 16 — What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour

• April 15 — Speakers at criminal justice, behavioral health forum look beyond jail expansion, crisis center

• April 14 — County-funded training expands number of peer-support specialists to share ‘been there, got better’ message

• April 11 — Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem

• April 9 — Douglas County Commission may be forced to put new mental health, tax plan on November ballot

• March 25 — Increasing population at Douglas County jail at odds with national trend

• March 22 — Advocacy group forms to support county referendum on jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• March 21 — Douglas County District Court chief judge defends court’s processes, agrees serious felony crime is increasing

• March 12 — County’s pretrial release, home-arrest programs diverting large numbers from jail, but not enough to prevent overcrowding

• March 11 — DA was more likely to grant a diversion in 2017, but number of people seeking them declined

• March 6 — Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offering jail tours, presentations in advance of spring referendum

• March 5 — Online behavioral health care site available free to county residents pending referendum outcome

• March 4 — Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says

• March 3 — Activist groups kick off their campaign against jail expansion

• March 1 — Town Talk: Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion

• Feb. 21 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says

• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says

• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax

• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them

• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax

• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus

• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding

• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question

• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there

• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court

• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually

• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County

• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health

• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot

• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming

• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery

• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH

• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan

• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design

• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds

• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say

• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars

• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects

• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget

• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests

• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority

Comments

Dale Miller

Am I correct Johnson County has space? Get a group rate.

Is it possible Counties team up building these facilities?

Is it true, our current facility the innate population are given their own personal key to lock the personal door. If this is correct, maybe the facility should look and behave more like a jail instead of a studio apartment.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jeanette Kekahbah

Could not be further from reality.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Aaron McGrogor

"given their own personal key"
That is hilarious.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Calvin Anders

If you pull out the 30 opiate charged individuals, the math on the other prisoners charged or convicted of felonies who were categorized is 109. Details on 139 individuals were given. So, 246 total in custody. 193 with felony charges, but only 139 on charges serious looking enough for the county to bother categorizing. So that means that 53 of the prisoners were on misdemeanor charges? And 84 more were either there on felony opiate charges or other felony charges that the county does not think are impressive enough to categorize? It seems like there might be some opportunities to change the approach and avoid locking up so many. I don't think anyone is claiming some jail capacity is unimportant. Trying to spin this by claiming all those who oppose the jail expansion think most of the prisoners are there for smoking pot or traffic offenses is disingenuous. I think most people know that some of those in jail probably should be. But our country's incarceration rates are obscenely higher that other industrialized countries. We need to start looking at alternatives. And based on our justice system's track record, the only way that will happen is if there isn't enough room to lock up a large swath of the population.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Dale Miller

One additional note.... That one individual who was facing a single charge of marijuana and is still in jail there might be an explanation. I am only guessing but perhaps this individual is a little out of control, not listening to anyone including those who love him. Maybe just maybe, someone loves him enough to leave him there, to get his attention, and speak a language he understands so he can experience a full successful life. Just maybe.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Dale Miller

Look at alternatives? I couldn't agree more. Take a close look at our culture. There might be some answers there.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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I wonder how many douglas county court cases dismiss those on call for jury duty in comparison to other counties? It's an awful waste of time and resources when that happens, and extends the amount of time someone sits in jail.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Richard Quinlan

Any argument for not building a larger facility seems negligent when looking at the facts presented by those who know what the true situation is. The overcrowding creates a dangerous situation in the jail , prevents those incarcerated from being able to work in programs that may help them not re offend. If you ship them off to the other counties , family and lawyers have a more difficult time keeping contact not to mention the condition of these other jails can be horrendous. Ok so no sympathy for the offenders . Now go sit in court for an afternoon and see what offenders are cut loose each day. Let out to continue whatever mayhem they choose on their families and communites. Douglas County will let most anyone out on OR just to ease pressure on the jail. Now listen to the scanner for an evening and experience the nightly stupidity that our police force has to deal with. Many of which are the same people over and over again who should be in jail but keep getting that one more chance prolonging their amateur criminal careers. The buildings don't fill themselves , the idiots willingly fill them up.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Deborah Snyder

Mr. Quinlan, while I respect your trust in our county officials, there are just as many well-informed local citizens who have good reasons to disagree.

The first, and foremost *unanswered* question is the sky-high incarceration and lllooooooooonnnngg delays for hearings in Douglas County, as compared to Shawnee (state capitol) and Leavenworth counties, both with higher crime rates than us. The second is why so many more prisoners of color than account for the percentage of our *entire population* of minorities are sitting in that jail.

How is it that the need for an adequate mental health facility is being held hostage to their demand for more jail cells, and who the hell decided to fund all of this using the most regressive, poverty-bashing method of taxation known to mankind??!

What's more, I don't like being threatened with "dire consequences" if voters don't accept this ballot, so... I'm doing research, and I. Promise. I will be seeking answers to these methods, and to resolve these, and other inconvenient counterpoints to what I believe is a manufactured crisis in Douglas County.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jeanette Kekahbah

Don't hold mental health support of inmates hostage!

Your question "why so many more prisoners of color than account for the percentage of our entire population of minorities are sitting in that jail"...

Not sure if you mis-stated your meaning, the entire minority population far exceeds the entire jail population.

How many inmates are FROM OUTSIDE Douglas County?! Maybe, just maybe, that's being overlooked by opposers.

Other counties have higher populations paying taxes for more courtrooms and judges and related personnel.

How many hearing delays are because of transportation issues for inmates housed outside Douglas County?

Incarceration rate info found here:

https://www.doc.ks.gov/publications/R...

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Beth Ann Bittlingmayer

She did not misstate her meaning regarding the minorities. She meant, for example, that if all minorities account for 15% of the total DG population then why might 40% of the inmate population be persons of color? WHY are persons of color incarcerated at higher rates than whites? Many of us would like to see that issue addressed. It is UNACCEPTABLE.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Jeanette Kekahbah

I would like to know what the disagreeing citizens' good reasons are and what well of information they are basing their disagreements on! Also, please explain who is behind "a manufactured crisis in Douglas County" and why on earth why?!

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Dorothy Hoyt-Reed

If there are people in there for doing any drug, pot of not, they should be in a mental health facility treating their addiction (not pot smokers). We need to start treating these addictions. And how many are there with mental illness who have assaulted someone? They should be getting help too. I'd rather we put our money into mental health, and into youth programs to stop kids from becoming criminals. So much money has been cut from these programs, and crime is going up. Coincidence?

And while we are at it, why not make pot legal and tax it. We would have lots of money for schools and for jails and for mental health facilities. I personally wouldn't smoke pot unless I developed insomnia or had cancer, but I don't care if other people do.

3 months, 3 weeks ago

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Brock Masters

Agreed.

Prevention, treatment and rehabilitation are not expenses; they are investments that in the long run will pay dividends.

Incarceration without treatment and rehabilitation is an expense that is costly not only in tax dollars but it’s cost to society and lives.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Dorothy Hoyt-Reed

I like the way you worded it. It is an investment. It is always good to help people get their lives together and contribute to society, than just to throw them in a cell over and over again.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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RJ Johnson

By law they will have to expand the jail. It will be done one way or another. I would rather have it done with sales tax than property tax!! I am voting YES!

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Ray Mizumura

Good thing Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is too busy to make time to read this article. He wouldn't be happy.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Sharilyn Wells

the whole mindset of punishing punishing punishing does not work we just get more and more people in jail or prison. Germany does not do that and they have much less recidivism.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Jeanette Kekahbah

well then how is the answer punishing inmates by depriving them of access to mental health, visitation, life skill building or community support???

One of the long-term goals of the re-entry program is to reduce participants' recidivism from the 2007 through 2009 baseline rate of 43 percent. That rate is currently at 31 percent, which is better than the 34 percent rate in 2015, Brouwer said. He knows, however, if the farming out of inmates continues at its current scale, that percentage will start heading the wrong way.

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2016/dec...

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Sharilyn Wells

then why do we have more and more people going to jail?

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Bob Smith

I'd suspect people committing more crimes would have something to do with that issue.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Chad Lawhorn

As a point of clarification, we don't have more people going to jail. Arrests are down since 2010. The amount of time people are staying in jail is up, which has contributed to the overcrowding issue. We wrote about this issue a few months ago. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2017/may...

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Sharilyn Wells

thanks

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Cille King

60 minutes yesterday, March 4, had an interesting story on German jails, where they treat prisoners as humans, and have a much lower rate of incarceration, and repeats. https://player.fm/series/60-minutes-1... They had another story on incarceration in America.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Matt Daigh

Are you insinuating that local prisoners are treated inhumanely?

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Sharilyn Wells

rehab should always be the goal.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Bill Pasquel

The people in violation for "weed" are transported/farmed out to Johnson County Jail.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Chad Lawhorn

As a point of clarification, Douglas County is unable to send any inmates to the Johnson County Jail. JOCO built a big jail several years ago, and then didn't fill it up like expected. However, they don't accept inmates from Douglas County. We wrote about that here: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2018/feb...
Also, the numbers in our story are for all inmates in the custody of Douglas County, whether they are housed in the Douglas County Jail or housed via contract at another jail.
Thanks, Chad

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Jeff Goodrick

Why not make the entertainment district pay for it with a tax on drinks and entertainment because that's why they come to Lawrence and get arrested.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Louis Kannen

"...why little Opie, I'm glad you asked...even though YOU'RE not catching anything yet, I, Sheriff Andy am 'catching' a major buzz off this ditch-weed doobie I'm enjoying. And as my Civic duties in these here parts allow, I can even use this here pair a' chrome bracelets a hangin' off my belt to drag my own self to jail, lessen' a course we're all filled up again..."

http://www2.ljworld.com/users/photos/...

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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Richard Heckler

I will support funding of a mental health facility ..... that's it. Probably we need a larger mental health facility.

3 months, 2 weeks ago

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