Archive for Friday, February 13, 2004

State prison crowding at ‘crisis stage,’ lawmakers say

February 13, 2004


— Crowded prisons and lack of funding for treatment programs are putting the Kansas prison system in crisis, several lawmakers said Thursday.

Short-term, the Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended taking $750,000 from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposed $2 million public relations project to build a new state image and instead use that money to fill a budget hole for community-based transition services for criminals being released from prison.

"I can't in good conscience" spend money on developing a state image while shortchanging the state prison system, said Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson.

Kerr said many of the people who would not have received transition services under Sebelius' budget proposal were sexual offenders.

"You dump them out at prison gates ... and we are clearly putting Kansas citizens at risk," he said.

"We have to put some money into these community residential beds. It's not like they're coming home to Mom and Dad," Sen. Christine Downey, D-Inman, said.

Sebelius said that in putting together a budget for the Kansas Department of Corrections, she deferred to Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz "on the best ways to make the dollars stretch in his budget, both in terms of program needs and in terms of community needs."

This year, 845 offenders were placed into transition services; under the governor's proposed budget, only 100 offenders would be able to use the services. The $750,000 would allow for another year treating 845 offenders.

Long-term, committee members say they need to start studying the possibility of building new prison space and sending more inmates to other states for incarceration.

The inmate population in the state prison system is near capacity at more than 9,000.

But in several areas, the prison system already is overloaded. Last month, it was short 31 beds for maximum-security inmates.

Because of space problems, Kansas has sent 48 medium-security inmates to Texas for incarceration. Another 48 may have to be moved within the month, and more than 100 inmates are backed up in county jails awaiting transfer to the state system.

"There essentially is no margin for error," said Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee.

"Seems like we're at a crisis stage," said Sen. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita.

Werholtz said the prison system was being monitored continuously. He said that he thought the state could go without building additional prison space for another year but that the state may need to expand its contract for sending prisoners to other states.

Werholtz said the department was reviewing how inmates were classified as needing maximum, medium and minimum supervision. He said a new classification system may produce space in the system where it is needed.

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