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Archive for Monday, February 23, 2009

For corrections programs, budget cuts do not pay

Eliminating officers, programs could cost taxpayers more if offenders end up behind bars

February 23, 2009

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Ron Stegall, Douglas County’s chief probation officer, is watching the Kansas Legislature’s budget wrangling with interest, wondering just how deeply his department will be affected.

As legislators work on their Fiscal Year 2010 budget expecting a $1 billion shortfall, officials at the county’s state-funded community corrections program are watching nervously.

The Kansas Department of Corrections has floated a list of possible cuts that would include a 3 percent cut to community corrections programs and another one that would include 10 percent.

“We can probably absorb the 3 percent reduction without losing people, but I don’t know how we would handle that bigger cut,” Stegall said.

In Douglas County, community corrections officers supervise about 200 people sentenced to probation for more serious crimes. The department has seven full-time probation officers, including Stegall who also supervises the county’s court services department, which handles less severe probation offenders.

Community corrections, which has a $512,000 budget, also has two part-time surveillance officers who check on offenders, typically in the evenings, to make sure they are meeting terms of their probation.

The surveillance officers could be the first to go if the department has to make deep cuts, Stegall said.

“It would really be a big loss,” he said.

Another concern would be the cuts to certain programs that community corrections employees operate to help offenders and hopefully keep them out of prison or jail, which costs taxpayers more money.

Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said it costs about $50 a day to house an inmate in the Douglas County Jail, compared with an average of about $10 a day to staff a probation operation. One of the county’s main programs developed recently is a re-entry program to try to help frequent jail inmates more easily adapt to living out of custody.

Any cuts would be down the road because the Legislature is working on its budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The state’s fiscal situation is also presenting headaches for local governments. During a time of declining property taxes and other revenues, cities and counties will see less funding from the state — and likely still will have to pick up the slack to provide some mandated services, Weinaug said.

Stegall said if his department is forced to deal with significant cuts, like personnel, he would likely ask the county commission for some financial support.

Weinaug has said the administration would recommend doing what it can to help the probation office.

“At some point the county has to consider taking over that function with local tax dollars rather than state tax dollars,” he said. “Obviously it’s very difficult to do when all these other things are being cut. But to not fund that costs the bottom line more dollars because it costs more to have them in jail.”

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