When the state faces so many financial needs for schools, highways, social programs and other responsibilities, why should Kansas taxpayers spend money on programs to help prison inmates?
Because, in most cases, those inmates will eventually leave prison and either successfully re-enter society or continue to be a threat to those around them. In many cases, they will end up back in custody, where they not only will be wasting their lives but also creating many costs for taxpayers in the form of law enforcement, court expenses and prison services.
Programs that help inmates cope with life on the outside may not be a popular way to spend money, but money spent on those programs has a direct effect on the long-term costs to the state to adjudicate and house offenders.
That was one of the points Kansas Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts attempted to make this week to members of the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice. Budget cuts over the last few years, he said, have forced Kansas facilities to release many inmates without the substance abuse treatment or behavioral skills training they need. Without those programs, many offenders will either commit additional crimes or violate their parole and find themselves back in custody, he said.
Roberts had some startling data to support his case. Since fiscal year 2009, the department’s budget for re-entry services (mentoring, transitional housing, etc.) has been cut by 46 percent; the budget for offender programs (education and substance abuse programs) by 59 percent. The result is that only a fraction of inmates being released have received the services they need. Perhaps the most stark figures concerned programs for substance abuse. A total of 3,304 offenders released in the last fiscal year were judged to need substance abuse programs. Because of budget cuts, only 10 percent of those inmates received that assistance. It should be no surprise that more than half the former inmates who violated their paroles or committed another crime — and returned to prison — last year had been identified as having substance abuse problems.
Some of the most discouraging figures presented by Roberts related to juvenile offenders. This is the group whose members seem to have the greatest chance of turning their lives, and yet around 40 percent of the 881 juveniles released in 2008 and 2009 were back in custody within 36 months. About 8 percent of them had committed new juvenile offenses and about 15 percent had been convicted as adults.
Although the state approved two-year budgets for most agencies last year, the governor vetoed the second year of the Department of Corrections budget because the proposed cuts could be a threat to public safety. As legislators consider Corrections funding this year, they should look back at the figures presented by Roberts on Tuesday. One inmate costs the state $3,398 a year. Every inmate who leaves the corrections system — and stays out — saves the state $3,398 a year and reduces the need for additional prison facilities. Investing in programs that keep inmates from returning to the system benefits both the individual offenders and the state as a whole.