Three questions with ... Ron Stegall, chief probation officer for Douglas County Community Corrections
Probation supervisors across the state will be applying for new grants to keep offenders from getting their probation sentences revoked and taking up prison space.
Legislators recently passed a $4.4 million bill that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed into law aimed at extending the time that the state will have to build more prison space.
"We would be taking a more in-depth, active role in these people's lives in helping coordinate a variety of these things," said Ron Stegall, chief probation officer for Douglas County Community Corrections.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said the goal of the law and other similar programs is to keep people out of prison who judges have "decided are safe enough to stay in the community in the first place" and to keep those released from prison from coming back.
"Reserve that space for the really bad guys, who have picked up very long sentences or who we're all afraid of anyway," Werholtz said.
The program could keep the state from having to immediately start multimillion dollar projects to expand correctional facilities and add more than 1,000 beds, he said. Instead the project could start one to three years from now.
The law's main provision makes grant funds available for community corrections districts by encouraging them to design programs to help offenders avoid probation revocation. The law would require community corrections districts to reduce revocation rates by at least 20 percent.
Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Lenexa, said the grant funding would require community corrections agencies to identify those most at risk of breaking their probation agreements by using drugs and alcohol or missing appointments. The extra attention could include helping them arrange for assistance such as family counseling, housing, transportation and substance abuse treatment.
"Then they've got a much better chance of again getting into a positive situation where they avoid getting into jail," Colloton said.
Community corrections districts include probation officers who manage cases of those who either have been convicted of more serious crimes or have a lengthier criminal history. The state has 31 community corrections agencies, most of which serve multiple counties.
Douglas County has a single agency. Stegall said the office currently is keeping track of more than 200 offenders.
According to Kansas Department of Corrections data, during fiscal year 2006 the county closed 164 probation cases. Of those, 42, or 25.6 percent, were probation revocations for not meeting probation conditions. Four offenders had their probation revoked for committing either a new felony or misdemeanor.
Other districts had higher revocation rates: Shawnee County, 28.8 percent; Leavenworth County, 33.9 percent; Reno County, 33.3 percent; Sedgwick County, 44.7 percent; and the Unified Government in Wyandotte County, 51.8 percent.
Stegall said grant funding may allow his office to hire more staff to help reduce those numbers further.
"It would give us more resources, more staff and more time to actually put some of these things into practice," he said.
The law was based on the pilot Shawnee County Re-entry Program that served parolees and reduced their recidivism. The districts will submit applications to the Kansas Department of Corrections by August. The department will decide how to divide the grant money.