Topeka — Kansas' top prison official Tuesday voiced skepticism about a proposal to ease prison overcrowding by diverting some drug offenders into treatment programs in local communities.
"I'm just a little concerned we get too optimistic about the impact," the plan will have, Acting-Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz told the House-Senate Committee on State Building Construction.
There are 8,770 inmates in Kansas prisons, which is 194 less than capacity, though the prison population has fluctuated above and below capacity the past several months.
Also, when broken down between males and females and security designation, the prison system has been at or over capacity for men and overcrowded for minimum security inmates. State officials said they will soon ship some inmates out of state because there is no room in Kansas facilities.
Next month, lawmakers will consider legislation to divert some first-time offenders charged with possession of drugs from the prison system and into community corrections facilities or substance abuse treatment programs.
The alternative, according to the agency that tracks prison sentencing trends, is to build two, 128-cell units at El Dorado at a cost of $14.4 million. The state this year faces an estimated $800 million revenue shortfall out of a $4.4 billion budget.
But Werholtz said diverting inmates from the prison system also produces problems. Werholtz said many of those in prison for offenses related to substance abuse have tried treatment several times and failed.
Also, the local programs will need more financing to handle the additional offenders, he said.
"If we're going to expect community corrections to have a fighting chance, we need to equip the communities with the appropriate tools," Werholtz said.
But state Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, didn't agree. He said if the drug offenders remained in prison, they wouldn't get treatment because budget cuts have terminated most programs.
"I'm not sympathetic to the argument you've given." Barone said.
Werholtz agreed that the state is caught in a Catch-22 situation.