Once a Model for Reform, Kansas Cuts Vital Prison Services

This comes from Matt Kelley
April 09, 2010
From the Prison Law Blog

In recent years, Kansas has been a standard-bearer for corrections reform. It’s managed to inspire reformers around the country by reducing recidivism through pre-release education and post-release services — but all that is being jeopardized now by budget cuts that could gut its core programs.

A we’ve written here recently, state budget crises have led to both good and bad cutbacks in prison and parole programs. For many states, the Great Recession has served as a wake-up call to rein in wasteful, destructive incarceration policies. Elsewhere, budget shortfalls have meant cuts to promising, innovative programs that are helping former prisoners succeed and helping defendants avoid jail through alternatives like education, work release and drug treatment.

Kansas, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Just two years ago, its innovative reentry services had a budget of $12 million. This year, though, such services are getting less than half of that — $5.3 million.

Prior to these cuts, the state was extraordinarily successful: it had reduced recidivism dramatically and cut parole violations by a third. The very programs responsible, though, are now getting the ax. An excellent story by Rick Montgomery in the Kansas City Star paints a bleak picture of these cuts. The bottom line? While it’s too early to tell how the cuts will affect recidivism, unraveling the safety net so suddenly can’t be a good thing. It’s quite likely that instead of funding treatment, the state will simply end up paying for prison cells to house a greater number of people re-committing crime. The price of human suffering and diminished safety is yet another cost — one that doesn’t so readily translate into a cash value.

Even as Kansas’s model is threatened, other states — like Michigan — are making more judicious cuts where they count, closing prisons and focusing on services and treatment. Likewise, California is aiming to address its massive prison problem by reducing the number of prisoners who get sent back for petty parole violations.

Meanwhile, Kansas looks like it’s rapidly losing its status as a model reform state, and instead becoming a symbol of precisely what not to do.

Via Prison Law Blog