Archive for Saturday, February 14, 2004

The right track

February 14, 2004

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Maintaining funds to help people adjust to life outside prison is an important investment for the state.

A public relations program to formulate a good image for Kansas is important, but members of the Kansas Senate were right when they decided this week that a treatment program for people leaving Kansas prisons was more important.

On Thursday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted to recommend taking $750,000 from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposed $2 million public relations project and use it to continue funding for community-based transition services for people being released from prisons. The shift in funds will allow the state to provide services to 845 offenders, the same number being served this year. The amount the governor budgeted for the program, would have provided services to just 100 inmates.

Trying to improve the chances that people leaving prison won't return is the right thing to do for many reasons. Helping them make the transition to living outside prison walls will increase their chances of living productive lives as well as increasing the safety of everyone around their communities. During committee debate, it was pointed out that many of the people who wouldn't receive transition services under the governor's budget are sex offenders. Simply returning these, or any, offenders to communities without support or transition services would place many people at risk.

Curbing the number of repeat offenders also has dollars-and-cents benefits for the state. The state already is struggling to accommodate all of its inmates and has been forced to send some medium-security inmates to prisons in Texas. The $750,000 spent on transition programs will be well worth it if it helps prevent or at least delay the need for Kansas to build additional prison space.

People land in prison because they have committed actions that not only break the law but set them outside the realm of behavior that society finds acceptable. When they leave prison, many of them will have no one to offer them financial or emotional support. Their ability to successfully re-enter society may depend on the services the state provides to help them make the choices and adjustments that will get them started on the right track.

A public relations program to improve the state's image is a good thing, but it pales by comparison to a program that could reduce crime and perhaps reduce the state's prison population.

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