Topeka A proposal to add space for as many as 256 additional inmates at the state prison outside El Dorado was endorsed Tuesday by a legislative committee.
The proposal is the response of the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice to concerns that the state's inmate population will continue to grow in the near future, despite efforts this year to slow that growth. Construction costs would be more than $7 million.
A law enacted this year requires judges to sentence nonviolent, first-time drug offenders to treatment programs, rather than prison. While the Kansas Sentencing Commission projected the law would decrease the need for prison space, its projections still show the population rising.
In fact, the commission's projections suggest the number of inmates will reach the system's capacity in 2007. The state has space for 9,244 inmates; as of Oct. 31, 9,076 offenders were in state custody, making the system 98.1 percent full.
"We continue to have an ongoing problem with maximum- and medium-security bed space," said Bill Miskell, spokesman for the Department of Corrections. "Construction of a cellhouse is an option."
The committee's voice vote will forward the proposal to the 2004 Legislature, which will convene Jan. 12.
The department has warned legislators about growth in the prison population but has not recommended a single alternative to lawmakers. Miskell noted that the state could lease space in private, out-of-state prisons or in county jails in Kansas.
Under the committee's proposal, the new cellhouse at El Dorado would have 128 cells. The state could put one maximum-security inmate in each cell, or two medium-security inmates.
When legislators authorized construction of the El Dorado prison in 1989, the department's plans allowed for future expansions. The site currently holds 1,178 inmates.