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Archive for Friday, February 16, 2007

Community Corrections funding problem means corners are being cut

Money not available for crime reduction programs

February 16, 2007

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In a perfect world, Annie Grevas would give ex-convicts on probation every tool to help them and the communities in which they live stay crime-free.

But for now, Grevas and other Community Corrections officers in Kansas are struggling to pay their own staff.

"Somewhere, somebody in the state has to step up and say, 'We have a problem,'" said Grevas, director of the Kansas Community Corrections Association and the state's 28th Judicial District.

Community Corrections funding across the state has been stagnant even as caseloads pile up and more high-risk, sometimes dangerous, offenders find themselves on probation instead of in prison.

The same holds true for Douglas County, even as the county's probation officers for lesser offenders are saddled with the highest caseloads in the state.

State records show that the level of funding for the Community Corrections program, which offers probation services for felony offenders across the state, actually has lost funding for the adult supervision program between 1996 and 2006.

Total funding for all Community Corrections programs, including adult supervision, drug and residential programs, fell from $15.6 million in 2001 to $15.5 million last year, records show.

The program lost funding even as more felony offenders entered the system. From 1996 until last year, Community Corrections statewide has added nearly 2,000 offenders, records show.

"We are being asked to do more with less and have struggled for years in our efforts to seek any new funding increases," Stuart Little, a lobbyist with the KCCA, told lawmakers earlier this month.

With stagnant funding levels, the system has had to cut corners, Grevas said. Programs that could help keep criminals off the street have been brushed aside, and with mandatory cost-of-living raises and insurance rate increases for employees, layoffs have become common.

For example, Grevas said programs that use "motivational interviewing" - allowing the client to direct their services and goals while on probation - have helped ease recidivism rates. But those programs take money for staff and training that isn't available now.

Plus, in the past five years, offenders guilty of violent crimes and sex crimes have more often entered the Community Corrections system rather than prison - leaving probation officers tasked with more intense supervision of criminals who pose more of a danger to the community.

The change came after a 2000 law charged the Community Corrections system with monitoring offenders who, because of a departure from sentencing guidelines, were placed on probation rather than in prison.

The law also defined the system's target population as people who have been convicted of severe felonies or have violated their probation conditions at least once.

"Those are some hard facts to look at," Grevas said of the increasingly dangerous criminals the system watches over. "We're expected to protect the safety of our communities with no funding."

But officials with the Department of Corrections, which oversees the program, said the department hopes to reduce recidivism by other means.

The department proposed an initiative last year to boost probation completion and reduce recidivism, in part, by relying more on community resources for programs Community Corrections can't afford to implement, said Keven Pellant, deputy secretary of community and field services for the department.

"We're looking at new methods with very little money," Pellant said. "Methods that don't include more time seeing them but more coordinating with the community."

And funding hopes in the Legislature aren't over, either. Although Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declined to endorse new money in the fiscal year 2008 budget, lawmakers tabled the issue until they knew the outcome of a House bill that could grant new funds to the program.

House Bill 2141 would establish a grant fund to help Department of Corrections officials generate a plan to reduce the recidivism many judicial districts face. If the fund is established, lawmakers likely will adopt Sebelius' recommendations.

But if not, lawmakers have to step up to fix what has become a broken system, said state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee

"We understand we have a problem here we need to address," Schwartz said.

Comments

oldgoof 7 years, 10 months ago

These programs have suffered over the years. These programs save state money and benefit the offender. It is sad that we spend all our time (including on this forum) trying to figure out how to lock more people away in jail rather than dealing with the populations which we know will be released.

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