Archive for Thursday, September 19, 2002

Lawmakers face tough choice: fund drug treatment or prisons

September 19, 2002


— Despite the state budget crunch, lawmakers this year must increase funding for drug treatment or build a new prison, criminal justice officials said Wednesday.

Barbara Tombs, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, told a House-Senate committee on corrections, "You have some hard decisions to make."

There are 8,868 inmates in state prisons, which is about 98 percent of the system's capacity of 9,062.

Tombs said that drug offenders are taking up a larger portion of prison space, both as new committals to the system and for violating the terms of their post-release supervision.

Many are addicted to drugs, she said; without treatment and community-based supervision, "These people don't do well on probation."

By 2005, the number of inmates is expected to increase to more than 9,100 unless a major policy change is made on how to treat drug offenders, she said.

"This will cost money. You will either put the money into treatment or put the money into prisons," Tombs said.

She said even though the overcrowding problems don't become severe until 2005, planning must start now because it takes at least two years to either build a new prison or realize a benefit from changes in sentencing. The next legislative session starts in January.

"While this isn't pleasant news, it's expected news," said Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan. "The time is coming for some really tough choices. I'm just hopeful this committee will be able to offer some leadership."

The committee will be considering proposals to divert drug offenders, especially those convicted of possession, from prisons into treatment and community corrections programs.

The call for more funds, however, comes at a time when the prison system has been cutting back on substance abuse treatment because of state budget problems.

In fiscal year 2000, the state prison system was able to provide substance abuse treatment at any one time for 270 inmates. That has been cut to 40 inmates, prison officials said.

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