The Rocket Docket program that aims to help expedite court proceedings for non-violent, low-level offenders and lower the cost to the county jail was nearly nixed by the Russell County Fiscal Court Monday night.
The Rocket Docket program has existed in Russell County for more than a decade, and has to be approved by the fiscal court each year. This time around though, a couple magistrates took issue with the program, although many of the concerns were dispelled by other county officials.
Ultimately, the Rocket Docket program was renewed by a 3-2 vote of the magistrates with Magistrates Steve Richardson and Ronald Johnson voting against the program, and Magistrates Terry Waddell, Mickey Garner, and Larry Holt voting in favor.
Last year, when the program came up for approval, Johnson made the motion to renew the agreement, noting that it “seemed to work pretty good in the past.” The approval has passed unanimously with little-to-no discussion at least the last two years.
Richardson began the questioning of Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Leveridge about the program.
( The program is primarily operated out of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.)
Richardson questioned a number provided by Leveridge that estimated the number of days saved a person would’ve spent as a county inmate if they weren’t in the program.
Richardson brought up that the jail had an average inmate population of just over 100 inmates, whereas in the past, the jail has had 150-160 inmates. The Russell County Detention Center has an 82-bed capacity, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections.
Richardson indicated that he believed putting people through the Rocket Docket program would not save money because the jail could hold extra inmates as it has in the past.
Leveridge reiterated that when someone is arrested and brought into the detention center, they are a county inmate until a felony judgment is entered.
“In my opinion, the Rocket Docket is working if we’re running fewer people,” Leveridge said. “Or at least, I think that is one factor in it.”
Richardson brought forth complaints about people getting out of jail shortly after being booked in, to which Leveridge and County Attorney Kevin Shearer said that is a bail issue, which is not a responsibility of either the Commonwealth’s Attorney or County Attorney’s Office.
“If you have a situation where someone commits a crime, and the Sheriff’s Office comes out and makes an arrest, and they’re out the next day, that means they made bail,” Leveridge told Richardson. “That’s not the Rocket Docket. That’s not this.”
That sentiment was backed up by Jailer Bobby Dunbar.
“There’s no way somebody could be in jail one day for breaking and entering, and be out the next day, and the Rocket Docket having anything to do with it,” Dunbar said.
Richardson said he didn’t know whether the Rocket Docket was involved in cases like that, but still had concerns with the program.
Leveridge said there are qualifications people have to meet to be eligible for the program, and oftentimes the process involves talking to the victims when there’s an identifiable victim in the crime.
Richardson said he still felt like the program was just using taxpayer funds to help criminals.
“I think we have plenty of faculty to take care of them down there [at the detention center],” Richardson said.
Later in the discussion, Holt asked Leveridge pointedly, “do you believe this program is beneficial for the county?”
“I think it has helped,” Leveridge said. “It’s not perfect and isn’t going to help every single person that is part of it, but for the most part, we see success with people going through this and being able to get help and get treatment.”
Judge Executive Gary Robertson said the aspect that helps the county comes down to the savings from avoiding drawn-out court proceedings so long as those savings are more than what is paid for the program.
To hear the full discussion, listen at the link below.