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Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

State seeks space for prisoners

Douglas County won’t be accepting inmates

July 31, 2003

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With Kansas prisons filling up fast, state corrections officials are trying to find county jails willing to house state inmates.

But Douglas County Jail won't be among them.

County officials say the state normally reimburses them about $45 per prisoner per day, a rate that doesn't reflect the full cost of housing inmates.

The actual cost is closer to $80 per day, Sheriff Rick Trapp said.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he spoke with Kansas Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz about the idea and wasn't sold.

"Unless they pay at a much higher rate than he was talking to us about, we wouldn't be interested," Weinaug said.

Bill Miskell, spokesman for the corrections department, said counties were being asked about their space as corrections officials prepare their budget proposals for fiscal year 2005. State agencies are preparing to submit spending recommendations to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius before the 2004 legislative session.

"We want to get some sense of the space that is available," Miskell said. "When we might need space is up in the air."

Kansas' inmate population is nearly at the system's capacity. As of June 30, there were 9,046 inmates behind bars, with capacity currently 9,114.

If county space is used, Miskell said, jails would be reimbursed for the cost of housing the inmates, similar to what happens when local officials hold prisoners for the state for reasons such as parole violations.

New space for the state prison system would not be cheap. For example, adding housing for 128 maximum-security inmates or 256 medium-security inmates would cost $7.1 million for new beds at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Doubling the space would cost more than $14.4 million because of the additional infrastructure costs.

Kansas has looked for outside help before. Miskell said that medium-security prisoners were housed in a private prison in Colorado about two years ago.

"Our ongoing squeeze is at the maximum- and minimum-security level," Miskell said.

Legislators have taken steps in recent years to ease prison overcrowding and reduce the need for new construction. During the 2003 session, legislators passed a law that would place first-time, nonviolent drug offenders in community treatment programs instead of mandatory prison sentences.

In 2000, legislators revised sentencing guidelines to remove the number of inmates in custody by reducing the time spent under state supervision.

Sebelius has said recently that Kansas should look for the least expensive alternative to building new prisons, including leasing county space.

Atty. Gen. Phill Kline is advocating new prison space and tougher sentencing guidelines, arguing they would make the state safer. However, he does support leasing space, if needed.

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