Topeka A Senate committee endorsed a bill Monday mandating treatment rather than prison for some drug offenders.
The measure, advanced by the Judiciary Committee, would let courts place people with a single conviction for drug possession in community treatment programs.
Offenders would pay for their own treatment, although some committee members said the Legislature will have to provide funds for treatment.
If the bill becomes law, about 300 current inmates would become eligible for transfer into drug treatment programs.
Sen. Derek Schmidt urged consideration of an alternative proposal to send people with a sole conviction for drug possession to minimum-security prisons rather than to medium- or maximum-security prisons.
Schmidt, R-Independence, argued his measure would save money and still keep inmates confined.
Schmidt's bill will not be heard in committee, said Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood. Schmidt said he might offer it as an amendment in the Senate.
Proponents of the committee-endorsed bill, including the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said the measure would free jail space for more violent criminals.
Opponents questioned whether the public would be endangered by the release of people convicted of drug possession -- a concern which Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, dismissed as unfounded.
Goodwin cited Sentencing Commission figures showing that about 1,200 of the 1,600 people sentenced for drug possession last year received probation or other sentences returning them to the community.
Under the bill, the Department of Corrections would evaluate defendants and tell courts whether treatment is appropriate. Eligible defendants could have no history of possessing, selling or manufacturing drugs or of committing violent felonies. Failing to comply with a treatment program's rules would mean incarceration.
Kansas' overcrowded prisons seemed to be more of a motivation for the bill than public safety and the treatment of drug offenders, Schmidt said.
"If we had ample bed space, the discussion would be how to provide treatment in prison, not discussing out-of-prison treatment," Schmidt said.