Gov. Kelly works to address criminal justice reform, fiscal challenges

Published: Sep. 11, 2020 at 4:22 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Governor Laura Kelly is launching a bipartisan effort to address criminal justice reform as well as fiscal challenges facing the State of Kansas.

Governor Laura Kelly says Kansas is facing a state budget shortfall and a unique opportunity to address the prison population growth. She said on Friday, she and the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission launched a bipartisan effort to save Kansas money and reinvest the savings in proven strategies controlling corrections costs and enhancing public safety.

“When I took over as Governor, our corrections system was in dire straits. Overpopulation and understaffing led to dangerous conditions in our prisons,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “It costs Kansas taxpayers nearly $30,000 annually to keep each person incarcerated in Kansas. 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. We must re-focus on protecting public safety and rehabilitating offenders so that they can return to society with the skills they need to hold a job, find stable housing, and succeed. That’s how the system can work for both the people it’s responsible for rehabilitating and for all the people of this great state because it will make us all safer in the end.”

According to Gov. Kelly, the effort is part of the federally funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which examines various areas within the state’s criminal justice system. She said it will provide chances to positively address trends in the state, which include high rates of unemployment among residents that have been incarcerated and prison admissions among people that have committed low-level crimes and residents on supervision that did not commit a new crime, but violated terms of probation or parole.

Gov. Kelly said the challenges left the state with a growing prison population that had already been at full capacity before March of 2020, which is projected to increase by 14% by 2029 costing $209 million.

“Kansas prisons are seeing the same people returning again and again,” District Attorney Marc Bennett said. “It’s a cycle that is costing our state precious resources and, with the vast majority of people sent to prison expected to return to society, it doesn’t do enough to ensure the safety of our residents. As we seek to identify where improvements can be made in our system, Justice Reinvestment will help us ensure we are using our resources effectively.”

According to the Kansas Governor, Kansas’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which had been jointly initiated by leaders from Kansas’s executive, legislative and judicial branches and will include an extensive review of the state’s criminal justice system done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Gov. Kelly said the national, nonpartisan organization, which is known for developing research-driven public safety strategies, will share its findings and give policy recommendations to the commission.

According to Gov. Kelly, CSG Justice Center staff will present its findings to the commission at its Monday, Sept. 14, meeting.

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