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Panel seeks policies to reduce recidivism

Topeka Capital Journal - 10/14/2020

As the coronavirus is putting a crunch on the state’s budget, the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission is working on recommending policies aimed at getting and keeping people out of incarceration.

The Council of State Governments, a nonprofit helping state officials shape public policy, outlined the polices being looked at a meeting Monday.

“It costs Kansas taxpayers nearly $30,000 annually to keep each person incarcerated in Kansas,” said Gov. Laura Kelly previously in a statement. “Safely reducing that price tag gives us the chance to invest in substance use programs and mental health services that help stop the cycle of reoffending.”

The commission currently is studying potential ideas focused on amending certain policies surrounding drug-related offenses as well as supervision violations.

According to CSG, the number of people in prison for drug offenses has increased three to four times more than the number of people in prison for other types of offenses. In addition, the majority of admissions to prison each year are for supervision condition violations, with 58% of them in fiscal year 2019.

All this is costly, said Carl Reynolds of CSG. It cost an estimated $43 million to incarcerate people who violated supervision conditions in fiscal year 2019. It cost an estimated $41 million to incarcerate people for drug offenses that same year.

Policies looking to create more efficiency in the state’s supervision system was a big theme, with 56% of those in probation revocation hearings citing failure to report.

“In a sentencing system that propels so many people to supervision, you’ve got to have a great supervision system,” Reynolds said.

Jennifer Kisela of CSG said about 5% to 16% of the supervised population were on dual supervision, meaning multiple supervision fees, multiple drug tests and no coordination across supervising agencies.

“You really start to see where there are some inconsistencies as well as inefficiencies in resources ... which are becoming challenges for not only the supervision agencies but also the success of people who are also on supervision,” she said.

A recommended option would be to create a more unified supervision approach, as well as identify those at risk of failing supervision requirements to re-engage them.

On the topic of mental health in jails, a good amount of jails had mental health medication but not proper mental health screening. Some in the commission called for an increase in staffing levels on this matter, as well as expanding telehealth services in correctional facilities.

Other areas of policy tackled included housing, education and employment along the lines of reentering society.

However, some brought up concern that in the end, funding will be key in deciding what gets finally recommended or not during a time when budgets are tight amid the pandemic.

“What are we going to do about staffing? The recommendation of the co-responder program be implemented, who’s going to pay for this thing?” said Marysville Police Chief Todd Ackerman on the proposal of sending out other people related more to behavioral or mental health alongside police. “Our departments, we’re taxed the way it is.”

John Francis, a law professor at Washburn University, responded that jail-able arrests went down when such a thing was implemented, so it would save money on the back end.

Commission members said more discussion will be had. Policy options will be finalized Oct. 26, with a report due to the Kansas Legislature in December.

Titus Wu, , The Topeka Capital-Journal