Although Gov. Kathleen Sebelius tried to paint the state’s current status in the best possible light Monday night, the budget figures that followed on Tuesday didn’t provide a lot of reason for good cheer.
However, one area of state government that Sebelius highlighted in her State of the State Address is deserving of praise because of the positive impact it has had on Kansas lives while also saving the state money.
As the governor noted, six years ago the state’s prison population was on the rise, beds were full and staffing was short. It seemed only a matter of time before the state would have to spend millions of dollars on new prison facilities.
Rather than accept that situation, the state passed legislation that resulted in treatment programs for nonviolent drug offenders and innovative release programs aimed at trying to keep inmates from returning to prison after they were released. As Sebelius noted, the Kansas programs now are the model for other states to follow.
According to a 2007 case study by the Pew Center on the States, the Kansas program cut the number of people failing on parole and returning to prison by 50 percent between 2004 and 2007. At the same time, the overall prison population is on the decline. After climbing steadily to a high of 9,181 in 2004, the Kansas Department of Corrections daily count reported on Monday a population of 8,514 inmates in its facilities, a decrease of more than 7 percent.
Rather than pushing toward its operating capacity of 9,317 people, the state’s prison system now has some room to spare. The decline probably is a result of a combination of factors, but the rising percentage of inmates that are getting out and staying out of prison shows that Kansas corrections officials are doing something right.
Like just about every other agency in the state, the Department of Corrections will see a decline in funding under the budget released Tuesday. Hopefully, those making the budget decisions will recognize the cost benefits of the strategy being pursued by Kansas corrections officials. It is far less expensive to put an inmate through a drug rehab program than to continue to house a repeat offender in a state corrections facility.
The rehab and prison release programs that have been implemented by the state are paying off in both financial and human terms. It would be tragic if those gains were not maintained.