Archive for Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Kansas prisons full; official outlines $27M expansion option

November 3, 2015

— Kansas' top corrections official Monday outlined a proposal for a $27 million expansion of the state's maximum-security prison outside El Dorado to deal with the state's increasing inmate population.

Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts told a joint legislative committee that the state already has slightly more adult, male inmates in its custody than space for them. He said that by mid-2018, the Department of Corrections expects to have about 9,400 male inmates — about 600, or 7 percent, above capacity.

Roberts also said that by mid-2018, the state will be short of space for female inmates. The state expects to have more than 1,000 female offenders in its custody, when it now has 837 beds for them.

He outlined multiple proposals for the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight, including increasing the amount of time taken off offenders' sentences for completing rehabilitation programs. Roberts also said the state could boost the number of inmates held in county jails or private prisons, though he called either idea only a temporary solution.

"We've just pretty much run out of rabbits to pull out of a hat at this point," Roberts told the committee.

Roberts said the state is seeing the effects of tougher sentences for violent crimes and sex offenders enacted from 2005 through 2010. The state had almost 9,700 adult inmates in its custody as of Friday, about 40 more than the capacity of its prisons. The state was housing 81 of them in county facilities.

Roberts said the department believes it could safely house between 300 and 350 offenders in county jails and contract with private prisons. But, he said, with private prisons the state could spend several million dollars outside of Kansas, and the per-inmate, per-day cost of $55 would be comparable to expanding the El Dorado prison.

The proposal to expand the El Dorado prison would add 512 beds to the prison, which has space for about 1,500 male inmates. The state would finance the construction with 20-year bonds, and the new beds would be available in 2018. The prison would add more than 100 staff members, and its annual budget would increase more than $8 million.

The joint committee is studying alternatives to prison, such as electronic monitoring for some offenders and treatment for those who are mentally ill. Its chairman, Republican Rep. John Rubin, of Shawnee, said lawmakers also need to consider changes in sentencing laws, such as lessening penalties for first- and second-time marijuana possession.

"But," he added, "sooner or later, even with a combination of alternatives to reduce the demand for bed space, we're going to have to build more prison beds."


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