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Kansas No Longer a Leader in Post-Release Prisoner Programs
Despite hard statistics that showed recidivism rates for parolees dropped to 2.2 percent in 2007, the number of parolees re-convicted for felonies fell 36 percent, and the state’s prison population and new prison admissions had declined, the reentry program fell into disrepair.
This occurred despite Congress’ enactment of the much-heralded “Second Chance Act,” which purported to help states provide funding for substance abuse, education, family reintegration and transitional housing for released prisoners. The reality is that many states, like Kansas, have not increased their halfway house bed space or programs to properly utilize the new funding, which Rep. Colloton estimated at $54 million.
While other states are taking radical measures to release prisoners early in response to serious budget deficits, Kansas has claimed it cannot do likewise due to stricter sentencing laws. The state has cut $25 million from its corrections budget since 2008, according to Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz.
As a result, even though four minimum-security facilities were closed, prisoners had to be reassigned to smaller units and many treatment and education programs lost their funding. According to Werholtz, “it means that access to substance abuse treatment through the Department of Corrections [will be more limited],” and parolees will “be lining up and competing for the same treatment slots as any law-abiding Kansan needing [such] help ....”
Halfway house contracts were cancelled in Topeka, Wichitz and Kansas City, and a treatment program for sex offenders at the Norton Correctional Facility was discontinued. According to former prisoner Mike Buie, “It’s easy to get back into just lie down in your cell and let the state take care of you. What’s hard is to make it out here ... I understand if people do feel safe in their homes, safe going shopping, with criminals locked away. But to really feel safe, you’re going to have to focus on the [prisoners] getting out.”
The state’s resources are clearly stretched, according to parole officer Chris Jorgensen, who works out of a less-than-luxurious Department of Corrections office in Kansas City. The state’s 125 parole officers juggle cases ranging from about 30 to 300 parolees.
According to Sean McCauley, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 64, which is comprised of parole officers, Kansas has not raised parole officers’ wages in 10 years except for a few cost-of-living adjustments. “I don’t know many parole officers who make over $40,000 a year,” he said. “And almost all are college graduates. They may start out hoping to help people, like a social worker, but eventually they feel like they are emptying an ocean with a thimble.”
Post-release programs are critical, according to Kansas lawmakers of both parties, due to their effect in reducing corrections-related expenses over the long run. By cutting funding for such programs for short-term fiscal gains, the state risks leaving parolees high and dry when it comes to mental health, substance abuse and housing assistance, at a time when the overall economy is ill-equipped to assist them. Indeed, if funding is not found to provide sufficient post-release resources, Kansas may find itself with a much costlier problem in terms of increased recidivism and more parolees returning to prison.
Rep. Colloton expressed exasperation when discussing the demise of the state’s successful reentry program. “The fact that our programs had gotten it right – and we had the data to prove it – didn’t keep us from destroying that model,” he noted.
Source: Kansas City Star
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