Kansas Prisons Overcrowded: Potential Catalyst for Change

by on January 5, 2012

in criminal charges

More severe penalties for sex offenses and violent crimes can be blamed—at least in part—for the overcrowding of Kansas prisons. But decreasing these penalties won’t be the answer, according to lawmakers. Instead, they will need to look at alternatives for those who are incarcerated and pose little risk to the public.

According to the Kansas City Star, about 27% of inmates in the state have “severe and persistent” mental illness, illness that would often be better handled in an inpatient mental health facility rather than in prison. If an inmate must serve some time in prison, the chances of them succeeding once they are released are slim if they are not given the supports for treating and living with their illnesses.

As it stands, around the country, there are little community supports for the mentally ill. Transitional housing and similar programs designed to help inmates with mental illness re-enter society have lost funding over the budgetary problems of the past few years.

Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts is requesting $4.8 million to restore some of the transitional housing, education, and substance abuse programs that had previously been lost. These things are credited with controlling the population in the past by reducing the likelihood that those released would reoffend.

But reducing recidivism is only one option available to the state, according to Roberts. They could also build more prisons or house more state inmates in county facilities. All options are expensive and the state will likely choose a mixture of all three, while attempting to spend as little as possible.

This year, it’s estimated the state will spend $1.5 million to house state inmates in county facilities. In the 2013 budget, Roberts is hoping to see $2.5 million allocated to the cause.

Along with Republican Pat Colloton, Robers has also suggested making drug treatment diversions accessible for a greater number of offenders. Currently, it’s only open to the most minor offenders and can only be used as a one-time option. They’ve also recommended a “good behavior” reward system in prison that would allow 60 days to be shaved off the end of their sentences.

Finally, Colloton plans to introduce a bill that would assist the mental illness diversion program in Johnson County. This program allows minor offenders to have charges against them dropped if they successfully participate in a period of supervision including mental health treatment.

Such diversion programs are an excellent resource for everyone involved—allowing offenders to avoid jail time and allowing the state to save the money earmarked for incarceration.

If you are facing criminal charges and interested in the availability of such programs in your area, contact my offices today to discuss your options and how I might be able to help.

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