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Archive for Friday, February 13, 2004

Lawmakers restore $750,000 to programs for former inmates

February 13, 2004

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— A Senate panel considering the budget for Kansas prisons on Thursday restored $750,000 that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius wanted to cut from services for some former inmates.

Ways and Means Committee members said reducing the post-release housing and treatment programs would make it harder for ex-inmates to return to society and could lead to more crime. A report prepared for the committee said some former inmates would be left "essentially homeless" if the services were cut back.

The committee ultimately endorsed a budget of $240 million -- including the restored services funds -- for the Department of Corrections and its eight institutions, up 0.8 percent from this year's funding.

Kansas spent $2.8 million in the 2003 fiscal year for post-release programs serving 845 former inmates. The current budget provides $1.48 million to house an expected 430 former inmates.

Sebelius wanted to reduce the appropriation for the upcoming fiscal year to $736,000 and provide housing for 100 former inmates. The committee's action would keep spending at the current level.

Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac, said he was surprised that the governor wanted to reduce the programs because they have a proven record of helping former inmates.

The programs provide housing and treatment for mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addictions.

According to the report by a Ways and Means subcommittee, reducing the services would affect former inmates who have little or no family support, who may have serious physical and mental health problems and who "may be unemployable."

"Those people who go through those programs are the ones at the most risk," said Sen. Bill Bunten, R-Topeka. "To take them and leave them at the gate with no place to go -- that didn't seem like the right thing to do."

Sebelius told reporters Thursday she had adopted her recommendations from the Department of Corrections, which were drafted assuming the budget would be tight.

"If more money is available, we'll allocate more money," she said.

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