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Archive for Monday, March 25, 2013

Senate considers bill that would have fewer convicts going to prison, and for shorter time

March 25, 2013

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As regular as clockwork, the prison gates close on more people in Kansas every day.

Even when crime rates go down — as they have in Kansas in recent years — the prisons grow fuller, partly because an ever-increasing population of probationers and parolees find themselves behind bars for technical violations, such as missing an appointment with a supervisor.

But there are only so many beds in Kansas' prisons, state officials say, which is why the House has passed a bill to lock up fewer convicts, and for shorter periods of time. The Kansas Senate is expected to vote on the bill within two weeks.

“The prison overpopulation crisis has reached critical mass,” said Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, who chairs the House committee on corrections and justice that helped pass HB 2170. “If things continue as they are, we’re going to have two options: spend a lot more money building new prisons or release some people early, possibly including dangerous inmates.”

Research and reform

To avoid that choice, Rubin and other legislators, along with corrections officials and non-profit research groups, designed the bill to give judges and probation officers more options in dealing with violators and require post-release supervision for every inmate who leaves prison.

The bill won’t release any inmates from prison early, Rubin said, or reduce penalties for new crimes. The idea, he said, is to concentrate resources on high-risk offenders and prevent people from being sentenced to long prison terms.

Today, more than 9,000 people are incarcerated in Kansas prisons. If nothing else changes, Rubin said, there will be another 2,000 in the next 10 years, and more after that. “I’m as tough on crime as you’re going to find,” he said. “But I’m also a realist.”

To get a grip on the prison population, the state is once again turning to advice from the non-profit Council of State Governments Justice Center, which advised earlier efforts to reform the state’s parole system in 2007. Since then, several other states have made similar changes, including Missouri last year.

Gary Fuhr, a retired Missouri state legislator, was involved in passing a law there in August that sought to address some of the same problems as the current law in Kansas. “We have empowered our probation and parole officers to deliver swift and sure penalties,” he said. “And more community-based resources for offenders, to help them get jobs and be productive citizens.”

Gradual penalties

In Kansas, the bill would allow courts to impose six-day jail sentences and prison terms of 120 or 180 days on people who violate the terms of their probation or parole. Judges today often have no penalty at their disposal except a long prison sentence that takes weeks to hand down. The six-day jail sentences would be delivered more quickly, and served in two- and three-day portions, intended to respond proportionately to violations like failed drug tests and missed court appointments. Judges still could revoke a person’s probation and send them to prison for their whole sentence, or they could choose to let probation and parole officers employ the new intermediate methods.

In a year, Kansas could have 600 fewer people in prison, Rep. Rubin said. That would mean millions in savings, because every prison bed costs $25,000 per year, in addition to allowing Kansas to put off more than $22 million in prison construction costs.

Other provisions of the bill would give offenders — a large number of whom are in the system because of substance abuse problems or mental health issues — a fairer chance at rehabilitation, said Jeremy Barclay, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

“That way, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach,” Barclay said. The savings would allow $3 million to go to probation and parole offices, which would help them make sure no inmate leaves prison without some kind of supervision, which often happens now.

“You basically just give them a bus pass and tell them ‘good luck,’” Barclay said. “Whether low-risk or high-risk, they at least would have someone to help them reintegrate into the community.”

How the new system of gradual penalties will work in Douglas County remains to be seen.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said prosecutors in his office might not be as willing to negotiate probation agreements for defendants if the penalties are not as certain. In addition, his office may have to deal with a wave of appeals as defendants argue whether the penalty they received for violating probation was fair.

“If these things go into effect, it’s going to change the way we do things,” he said. “That may mean we ask for more time in prison.”

Comments

50YearResident 1 year, 8 months ago

Our priorities are out of order. The Government wants to take the guns away from the good guys and at the same time let more criminals out of the prisons and onto the streets. Go figure!.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

Did you even read the article?

The US has the highest prison population in the world, and the great majority of them aren't violent and aren't there for crimes that your brandishing a gun would do anything to prevent. For those prisoners, there are much better and cheaper ways of supervising and rehabilitating them than warehousing them in prisons.

These reforms make sense, so, sadly, this legislature will probably not pass any of this.

parrothead8 1 year, 8 months ago

Would you be happy to admit that the large majority of people we spend $25,000/year to incarcerate are there for non-violent crimes? And that the United States imprisons a far greater percentage of its population than any other developed country in the world? And that it's turning into an expensive problem? Would you be happy to pay for a few of them each year?

Thomas Bryce 1 year, 8 months ago

No but the "For Profit, Privately owned prisons" don't want to reduce their population either. That would mean less money to their bottom line. Prisoners are a money making business for this industry. Will be interesting to see the response from the Privately owned Prison Lobbyists.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"we spend $25,000/year to incarcerate are there for non-violent crimes?"

It costs a lot more than that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

"Please enlighten us as to your rehab concept?"

It starts by not warehousing them in prison for several years with little attempt at rehab or education, after which they move in next door to you.

Jonathan Becker 1 year, 8 months ago

Brownback = soft on crime.

Who'd of thunk that?

Tradways 1 year, 8 months ago

Basically the republicans are passing the buck to the counties, releasing/keeping more criminals in the community. At the same time not giving parole and probation officers a raise for the 5th year in row, but giving them more offenders to supervise. The republicans hate state employees (Rep. Marc Rhodes), but the legislative branch has had a pay raise for the past four years and will probably get another this year. You people that only think violent offenders should be in prison or jail don't complain when your car is broken into so the can buy drugs or break into your house when you're not home. Just be happy you state taxes are a couple of dollars cheaper.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 months ago

Keeping them in prison is likely more expensive that the petty crime they commit, and doesn't do anything to keep the crime rate down, anyway.

But you're right that if this is going to work, courts and parole and probation officers will need to get the funding required.

Michael LoBurgio 1 year, 8 months ago

ALEC exposed Guns, Prisons, Crime, and Immigration

Corporations and their politician allies voted behind closed doors through ALEC to change America's criminal justice system and enrich profits. On the surface, many ALEC bills look like basic tough-on-crime legislation, but some corporate leaders of ALEC benefit financially from such legislation -- meaning that what has been sold to the public as good for public safety was often pushed by corporations that profit from such changes in the law, without politicians disclosing their corporate allies' financial interest to the public when such bills, pre-approved by the corporations, were introduced.

http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/Guns,_Prisons,_Crime,_and_Immigration

gem1963 1 year, 8 months ago

Hopefully, the increased budget will allow the newly released to be mentored for at least a year. We ,as a society need to assist and allow these individuals the opportunity to be successful. It will take their community, family, and themselves to construct a new life. Providing an environment of encouragement, support and hard work just may be the cure we need to prevent the individual from returning to prison.

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