Topeka — State officials Wednesday said the prison population in Kansas had actually decreased, but still more prison space was needed.
"That's a good problem to have," Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said of the state prison population of 8,937, which is the lowest it has been since December 2002.
"There is a great deal of hope and optimism on what is happening in law enforcement and criminal justice," Werholtz said, noting that the current number of inmates is 240 below projections.
The state prison system has a capacity of about 9,200 inmates. In early to mid-2004, there were many times the population neared that capacity.
Werholtz and other state criminal justice officials said the reduction in the prison population was due to recent laws aimed at providing drug treatment, instead of incarceration, for low-risk offenders who are substance abusers.
In addition, courts are sending fewer people to prison, they said, although they weren't sure what was driving that factor.
But Werholtz said despite the current downward trend of incarceration, there were certain categories of space that needed to be expanded, specifically cells for medium-security inmates.
Under Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' budget proposal, the state would build a $3.5 million,100-bed housing unit at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. That would free up some beds for medium-security inmates.
Werholtz said that if the Legislature approved the expansion, the agency would sell bonds to finance the construction.