At A Glance
The problem: Too many people are having their probation revoked and ending up in prison, resulting in less space in the facilities.
The solution: Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz is starting a new approach for dealing with those on probation. It will focus on coming up with specific plans for individuals to help them stay out of trouble.,/p>
The results: Werholtz said it will mean fewer people entering prison, which will save the state money because the cost of maintaining someone on probation is about one-tenth of the cost of housing an inmate for a year.
Lansing — Elijah Corum's world these days is behind a high chain link fence topped with razor wire. He sleeps in a top bunk in a prison barracks without air conditioning. A Bible and pictures of his wife and three children are on a nearby shelf.
Not that long ago, he installed carpet for a living, earning up to $300 for a single job. Now he cleans toilets and works in the mailroom at the Lansing Correctional Facility for 60 cents a day.
Corum is behind bars because his probation for a drug charge was revoked. He's one of several thousand offenders who come to prison each year from probation, but corrections officials hope to change that costly trend with new ideas and a $4.5 million grant from the Legislature.
Among other things, probation officers will identify issues, such as drug use, that increase someone's chance of re-offending and develop a specific plan to address them. Each plan will be reassessed when there's a probation violation to identify alternatives to prison.
The new program also will connect offenders on probation with community outreach programs to help keep them out of trouble. Most probation violations are tied to drugs, domestic issues or failing to report to their parole officers.
Corum said such a program might have kept him out of prison.
"That would have helped, rather than just putting you out there with a list of things to do," he said.
High rate revoked
About 7,400 people have been sentenced to probation and are under the supervision of 31 Community Corrections agencies. Counties run those agencies, but they receive money and oversight from the state Department of Corrections.
On average, 40 percent of the offenders have their probation revoked each year and are sent to prison, according to department statistics.
And taxpayers spend an average of $23,000 a year to feed, house and care for an inmate, compared with $2,000 for someone on probation. The cost difference gives state officials an incentive to look for ways to keep nonviolent offenders like Corum on probation.
Corum's case is an all too familiar scenario for corrections officials. His problems started with drugs. He was arrested in 2005 for having "a few crumbs" of crack cocaine in his pocket while walking home in Kansas City, Kan.
"I'm not a gang banger. I'm just a family man who went to work and came home," Corum said.
He also was a drug addict - a habit he says he kicked and won't start again after he's released.
"Every time I got some money, I got butterflies in my stomach and felt the need to go to the dope man," he said.
Last year, a judge sentenced Corum to 18 months' probation and assigned him to the Community Corrections agency in his hometown.
Within a couple of months, he was in trouble.
"I relapsed and started using again," he recalled. "That's when I freaked out and said forget about it."
Corum drove to Iowa but was stopped by police for not wearing a seat belt. They discovered he was wanted in Kansas, and sent him back.
He had a choice: 5 1/2 months in a boot camp, plus 18 months probation, or seven months at Lansing, with release, free and clear, in November.
"I'd rather do seven months and get out without any paper. I won't have to report to anybody," Corum said. "I just want get out and live my life."
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said the new program will focus on high-risk offenders because "if you get those guys who are at a 50 to 70 percent risk and reduce that to 30 percent, you reduce a lot of crime in the community."
Community Corrections agencies will have to retrain their staffs and develop new programs, which is what the grant money is for. The goal is to have the new services started in all agencies by December or January.
"Rather than waiting for the them to mess up, you deal with the problems before they start," Werholtz said. "Expecting a probation officer to control behavior is a pipe dream. You have to motivate people to follow the rules."
Werholtz borrowed heavily from a program that reduced parole revocation by nearly 50 percent during the past four years, and Kansas is among 40 states with such a program. Parole is for inmates getting out of prison early, while probation is an alternative to being imprisoned.
"The goal is to get the staff to look at each offender individually and design an individual plan for them," Werholtz said. "It's learning to identify the learning style of offenders and you adapt to the style that works."
While the new program isn't unique to Kansas, Werholtz said, "It's probably considered one of the two or three leading states in re-entry because of the comprehensive nature of the implementation effort."
In Saline County, the 28th Judicial District Community Corrections agency staff has been using the new approach for about eight months. Initial results show a 40 percent decrease in revocations.
Director Annie Grevas said it's too early to say whether that will continue, but added, "I'm a believer in it. I think in the long term it will get better."
The better the program works, the fewer people like Corum will end up in prison, and the less the state spends on inmates.
"We can stretch our dollars a lot further, and that frees up money for other state services and limits the amount of tax increase needed," Werholtz said. "There's something in it for people of every political persuasion to support."