Prisons aren't a particularly popular target for increased state spending, but one measure approved this week seems to be a good investment for Kansas.
In final negotiations before approving the state budget Wednesday, legislators agreed to include a $39.5 million prison expansion program. Much of that money will fund additional prison facilities at El Dorado, Ellsworth and Stockton. Another piece of that funding, however, will be used to try to reduce the continuing demand for more prison space in the state. That part of the plan is funding for a 240-bed treatment center at Yates Center for inmates with drug and alcohol problems.
At the beginning of this year's legislative session, Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz visited the Journal-World to tout a new effort to try to reduce the number of inmates who violate their parole and return to prison. The statistics compiled last year by the Department of Corrections and the Kansas Sentencing Commission are stunning:
¢ The state's prison population is projected to increase 26 percent in the next 10 years and cost the state more than $500 million.
¢ 65 percent of prison admissions are people who violated the conditions of their probation or parole.
¢ 72 percent of prisoners who need vocational education do not participate in programs before being released from prison.
¢ Half of prisoners in need of substance abuse treatment do not participate in treatment before release.
The facility slated to be built in Yates Center may not eliminate all of those factors but it is a step in the right direction. Substance abuse programs in the state were cut severely in 2002 and 2003, when the state had budget shortfalls, said Werholtz, who estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of Kansas inmates have substance abuse problems. If inmates don't deal with those problems in prison and don't receive continuing support when they leave, the chances they will backslide, violate their parole and land back in custody are greatly increased.
Any program that can derail this cycle of self-destructive behavior is a good investment for the state. Spending money to imprison those who have been convicted of crimes is necessary, but it's a waste of state resources not to take reasonable steps to try to keep them from returning.
Helping inmates deal with drug and alcohol problems isn't coddling; it's a smart use of state funds. If inmates were able to cope with these issues on their own, they probably wouldn't be in prison in the first place. Providing them some help to confront their demons costs money, but, if it helps reduce the state's prison population, it will save taxpayers money in the long run.