Topeka The state's top prison official said Wednesday that he would rather not have them, but lawmakers are poised to approve private prisons.
"I'm not a fan," said Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz. "I would prefer to operate our own prisons."
But key lawmakers have been pushing for private prisons for years, and they may have hit a successful strategy by tying the legislation to lawmakers' desire to increase punishments for sex offenders.
Authorization for private prisons has been folded into a mammoth criminal justice measure that includes a popular proposal to establish lengthy prison sentences without possibility of parole for sex offenders. A House-Senate conference committee is negotiating the bill.
Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson, a member of the conference committee, is opposed to the private prisons measure. She said it was "sad" that it was tied to sex offender sentences and should be given "an up or down vote" on its own.
Private prisons have been pitched as a way for the state to handle the projected increase in prison population from the toughened sex-crime penalties - approximately 1,000 more inmates over the next 10 years. There are currently 9,050 inmates in the state prison system, which has a capacity of 9,400.
Atty. Gen. Phill Kline said, "I think it's a good policy."
He said private placement of prisoners has been successful in the federal system, and even Kansas has on occasion shipped some of its prisoners to private corrections facilities in other states.
But Werholtz said private prisons could actually hurt the efficiency of the state prison system.
In other states, private prisons generally "cherry pick" which inmates they will take, refusing to take the more dangerous inmates, or those who require lots of medication, he said.
He said if the Legislature approves private prisons, he hopes safeguards currently in the measure remain.
Those would essentially give the corrections secretary authority over the construction, licensing and oversight of a private prison.
In addition, under the measure, no private prison could be operated in a county without approval of the county commissioners and a vote of county residents.