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Many of Aging Kansas State Prison Population Could Be Released

The legislatively established Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission issued a November 2019 report on the matter, recommending the state add several hundred beds for substance abusers and aging prisoners as well as sentencing reforms.

Governor Laura Kelly is in favor of these remedies and is forging ahead with renovations to two existing buildings close to the Winfield Correctional Facility, which will add 241 more beds at a cost of $9.3 million. Another building remodel at the Lansing prison will cost $3.5 million. Estimates for an entirely new 1,200-bed prison run from $135 million to $145 million, making the renovation plans fiscally sound by comparison.

Kansas prisons are already so overcrowded the state pays the private prison firm CoreCivic to house over a hundred state residents in an Arizona prison.

Kansas American Civil Liberties Union director Nadine Johnson applauds the state’s efforts to provide for its aging prisoners, which now number about 20 percent of the prison population. She pointed out a provision in Kansas law already in place whereby most of the prisoners slated for those geriatric beds could be released. “We would urge use of compassionate clemency to assess the possibility of release for these inmates for whom incarceration no longer makes sense from a community safety or financial perspective,” Johnson stated.

The national average for geriatric prisoners is about 20 percent and rising, in accordance with the Kansas numbers. [See PLN, November 2019, pgs. 54-55.] It is a statistically proven fact that people “age out” of the propensity toward criminal behavior, making compassionate and geriatric releases viable from public safety and fiscal standpoints.