Crowd control

Conference describes ways to save money, conserve space in correctional facilities

Kansas is on track to run out of prison space within two years unless something changes, speakers warned Tuesday at a conference in Lawrence.

There’s an option of building a new prison with an estimated cost of about $500 million during the next nine years. Or there’s a second option of working to keep people from violating their probation or from returning once they’re released from prison – an approach that researchers say can allow the prison system to remain at its current capacity until roughly 2015.

The second option was the one emphasized during Tuesday’s conference, which was sponsored by groups including the Kansas Department of Corrections and the Council of State Governments.

Rep. Ward Loyd, R-Garden City, said the Legislature owes it to Kansas residents to fully explore the range of programs designed to modify criminals’ behavior and help smooth their re-entry into society.

“I say we are failing in our duty not to implement them,” Loyd said.

The crowd included about 100 people who work in criminal justice, including probation officers, parole officers and representatives of state agencies such as the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz said that in recent years, Kansas’ bipartisan approach to managing its prison population has been a model for other states and has caused other groups to take notice.

Earlier this year, the state received more than $500,000 in grants from New York-based JEHT Foundation, a private criminal justice organization that helps support programs for prisoners who are being released.

So far, re-entry programs have opened in Shawnee County and Sedgwick County, and plans are under way for another in Wyandotte County.

Also, a study done earlier this year by the Council of State Governments, in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, made the following findings about Kansas’ prison population:

¢ Sixty-five percent of prison admissions are people who violated their probation or parole.

¢ Half of prisoners who need substance-abuse treatment in prison didn’t participate in it.

¢ In one year, Kansas spent $5.5 million to incarcerate parole and probation violators from Wichita alone.

The study identified three options that, if combined, could leave the state close to its current capacity of 9,397 inmates for the next decade. They are:

¢ Reducing the number of inmates who have their parole revoked.

¢ Reducing the number of probation violators by 20 percent.

¢ Creating a “risk-reduction” credit that would allow some inmates to cut 10 percent off their sentence length if they complete treatment, educational and vocational programs.

Rep. Janice Pauls, D-Hutchinson, said the public generally doesn’t like to think about the fact that most prisoners come back and live in communities after their sentences run out.

“They like the idea that we lock people up and they’re gone,” she said.