The current tight economy is forcing individuals, businesses and government to make many decisions that may save money in the short run but prove to be both costly and dangerous in the long term.
Among those decisions are the funding cuts in the Kansas Department of Corrections.
In a meeting with an oversight committee Thursday, Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz outlined the impact of about $23.5 million in budget cuts to his department. The bottom line, he said, is, “We’re not as safe as we were.”
In order to preserve its core mission of imprisoning people who have committed crimes, the department has had to drastically curtail programs intended to rehabilitate prisoners and help them stay out of prison once they complete their sentences. The success of these programs in recent years had made Kansas a model for the nation.
An analysis of the state’s prison population revealed that parole and probation violations accounted for 68 percent of prison admissions from July 2003 to December 2004. Kansas lawmakers were looking at costly increases to the state’s prison capacity, but decided instead to fund programs that would attack the problems that caused people on parole and probation to return to prison. According to a case study, 32 percent of parole revocations in fiscal year 2005 were for alcohol or drug abuse; 30 percent of the revoked population had significant mental health needs.
The state instituted new substance abuse treatment programs and designed a program to help inmates with severe mental health problems to transition back to communities. Between 2004 to 2006 the number of people whose parole was revoked each month was cut in half.
Now, most of that effort is being put on hold. Werholtz told legislators Thursday that budget cuts had forced the corrections department to eliminate 220 of 284 slots in its substance abuse treatment programs and 100 of its 180 slots for sex offender treatment. The transitional program for those with mental health problems has been eliminated.
The current economy is forcing many tough decisions, but the loss of these corrections programs is particularly painful. The programs were working. They were saving the state money. They were making the state safer by helping inmates successfully transition back into Kansas communities.
There is no question that the corrections programs that have been cut were a tangible benefit for the state. Finding the money to restart those programs should be a top priority for state officials.