Topeka Just a few years ago, Kansas was facing the possibility of an expensive expansion of the state prison system because of a growing inmate population.
But the tide has turned.
The state prison population has decreased, and the number of crimes committed by former inmates has dropped.
"When I came into office, it was projected that our prison population would increase by 20 percent within my terms in office," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said. "We now have fewer prisoners than we did when I came in the door in 2003."
That reduction, allowing the postponement of further prison construction, has saved the state $80 million, according to a report by the Council of State Governments' Justice Center.
As of late February, there were 8,688 inmates in state prison. That is 563 inmates fewer than were incarcerated in February 2004.
The shrinking Kansas prison population runs contrary to national trends.
A report by The Pew Center on the States shows that for the first time in history, more than 1 percent of all American adults are in prison, which is an all-time high. And the Kansas Legislature hasn't been getting softer on crime. To the contrary, lawmakers are beefing up sentences.
But that same Pew Center report cited Kansas and Texas as two states that have taken the necessary steps to stem the growth of the inmate population.
"Facing daunting projections of prison population growth, they have embraced a strategy that blends incentives for reduced recidivism with greater use of community supervision for lower-risk offenders," the report states.
This allows Kansas "to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens," the report states.
"We have really been putting an emphasis on working with offenders before they get into trouble again," said Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz.
He said there is nothing magic about what Kansas has accomplished, but it takes a lot of work and training to direct intense supervision, education opportunities and substance abuse treatment to the right people.
"We do a risk assessment of each offender, and the first thing that tells you is who is most likely to get in trouble again, and then we target our attention to those people," Werholtz said.
"Twenty years ago, it was much more likely that low-risk people would get the treatment because we thought, rightly so, they would do better. But the fact is they would do better even if we did nothing.
"That's where you get the biggest impact - you target the highest risk people," Werholtz said. He said corrections employers have become "better at hooking the guys and getting them interested in sustaining the education and treatment efforts."
The proof is in the pudding.
Parole revocations, absconder rates and new crimes by parolees are all down, he said.
"They're succeeding in living a more traditional and crime-free lifestyle," he said.