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Kansas to open first drug-treatment prison

(Gray News, file)
Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 10:47 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas is on its way to opening its very first drug-treatment prison.

On Monday, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says he praised members of the Legislature for approving funding for a new drug-treatment specialty prison.

According to AG Schmidt, the budget was passed on Friday and contains $6 million to convert a building at the Lansing Correctional Facility to a new 240-bed minimum-security prison meant to house certain inmates with the result in addition to drugs or alcohol. He said some funds will also be used to renovate a building at the Winfield Correctional facility for geriatric inmates.

“Funding this groundbreaking drug-treatment facility is a bold step toward meaningful criminal justice reform that can make our communities safer by more effectively working to break the cycle of addiction that is at the root of so much repeated criminal misbehavior,” Schmidt said. “This is a smart new effort that is long overdue, and the broad support it has received is encouraging and to be commended.”

Schmidt said he has advocated building a dedicated drug-treatment prison for over 10 years. He said the legislature first funded a facility of this type in 2007, which got as far as the architectural design before construction was canceled by the Legislature and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2009 due to an economic turndown. In 2019, he said when Kansas’ current Criminal Justice Reform Commission began, he again resented the idea, and t was adopted as a Commission recommendation. He said in 2020, the Legislature again funded the project, but Gov. Kelly canceled the funding in the summer of 2020 due to the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he said the Kansas Legislature has once again funded the project.

“I’m hopeful this will be the year that not only will the funding again be signed into law, but also this much-needed project will receive actual follow through and become a reality,” Schmidt said.

According to Schmidt, over 80% of all inmates have substance abuse disorders. He said he has argued for years that the most meaningful criminal justice reforms would expand substance base treatment and mental health interventions, the two top motivators of criminal activity in communities. He said the new drug-treatment prison will be designed to give other options along the spectrum of intervention, filling a gap between community-based treatment and placing addicts who have committed crimes with the general prison population.

“This specialty facility will add a missing piece to our overall system of corrections,” Schmidt said. “It provides an option for judges and others in the criminal justice system between leaving offenders in the community to receive drug treatment or locking them in with the general population in a regular prison.”

Schmidt said special criminal-sentencing rules have been designed to target certain inmates for intense drug treatment while in prison have been on record for over 10-years, but they have never been used because the special sentences required need to be served in a specialized drug-treatment prison, which have not yet been built in Kansas.

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