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June 2012
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'Rocket docket' proves a win-win

The following editorial appeared in The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown, on June 12:

One year after it was reintroduced by local prosecutors, the rocket docket seems to again be accomplishing its goals.

A program that speeds adjudications for defendants pleading guilty to non-violent, non-sex offense felonies, rocket docket saves time and money.

By processing cases more rapidly, defendants avoid unnecessary delays and additional personal costs and inconvenience. Prosecutors can concentrate more on cases that are to be contested. Judges have more manageable caseloads. And the county jail saves money because people accused of crimes are jailed on the county's dime while people convicted of felonies become state prisoners and thus become "paying customers" generating revenue for the jail.

It's a win-win for the legal system.

It also has another sometimes overlooked benefit for those facing jail time - particularly when the offender faces a drug charge or theft accusation that is rooted in dependency. By being processed sooner, drug counseling and other vital services can be provided sooner. Freeing a jail inmate from a drug dependency facility often reduces repeat offenses, which is a huge benefit to society.

The rocket docket idea worked from the start. Introduced by former Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Shaw, the advantages were quickly realized. But it went away in 2009 when county government cut its annual payment for the service in half.

While announcing his candidacy for the prosecutor's position, Shane Young promised to reinstitute the program regardless of supplemental funding because of its overall benefit for the courts and the community.

Young and County Attorney Jenny Oldham also collaborated on a way to work jointly to help make the rocket docket viable. By state law, the county attorney's office handles all arraignments and prosecutes misdemeanors and other violations heard in District Court. The commonwealth's attorney is responsible for felony charges when the cases are advanced to Circuit Court.

This collaborative relationship helped restart rocket docket and is a model of intragovernmental cooperation that deserves to be replicated across the state.

In the process, county government has resumed financial support as well.

For most residents of Hardin County, rocket docket is something that we never will encounter. But it is something working effectively on our behalf. Thanks go to Young and Oldham for providing the necessary leadership to resume this program.

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