Three questions with ... Ron Stegall, director of Douglas County Community Corrections
A community corrections program faces a budget shortfall that could affect services for criminals, and the program's director may turn to the county for financial help for the first time.
Ron Stegall, who oversees Douglas County Community Corrections, said the program could face a budget deficit of more than $100,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. Such a deficit would lead to layoffs and nearly double case officers' workloads.
"That becomes not just a nightmare for us but, I would suggest, a nightmare for the community," Stegall said.
Stegall has about half a dozen employees who supervise serious criminal offenders who have been released into the community. The employees handle about 35 cases each.
"We are at a place where with the staff we have, we have a high caseload but we think we can still do a good job," Stegall said. "If we're looking at 50 cases, oh my goodness."
Convicted criminals assigned by a judge to community corrections experience a more intensive form of supervision than standard probation. Community corrections officers might see them as often as six times a month, compared with once a month for standard probation.
Community corrections offenders are considered to be higher risks than those in standard probation because they have been convicted of serious felony crimes, including aggravated battery and voluntary manslaughter as well as sex crimes. But they also have been determined by court services screening to be good candidates for completing the community corrections program.
Douglas County Community Corrections is funded by the Kansas Department of Corrections. It received $430,000 in state funding for this fiscal year - July 2006 to June 2007 - and it currently has an $80,000 deficit.
For the coming fiscal year, the program has received an allocation of $386,751, which is about $43,000 less than this year. The state reduced its funding allocation to Douglas County because the number of offenders being supervised by community corrections has not increased at the same rate as those in other counties, Stegall said.
"Our numbers didn't go down; we're at the highest number we've ever had," he said. "Last year our numbers stayed the same and statewide they went up."
Currently the county has 220 active cases in community corrections, Stegall said.
Stegall expects the coming year's budget shortfall to grow because of an increase in department costs, and pay and benefit increases. He expects the year to rack up another $79,000 deficit.
Stegall hopes to avoid such a deficit with additional funding and reimbursements from the Kansas Department of Corrections, plus a state grant.
"That's really a challenge and difficult to do," he said during a meeting this week with Douglas County commissioners.
If the deficit can't be covered, Stegall said he would have two choices: ask the county for funding - something he hasn't had to do during his seven years with the program - or make personnel cuts.
Commission Chairman Bob Johnson said the county would do what it could to help community corrections if necessary, but he said he doesn't know where the additional funds would come from.
"If there is any way to help him, we'll do it, but the bottom line is finding the money and being willing to spend the money when it is, in fact, the state's responsibility," Johnson said.