TOPEKA – Kansas’ adult prisons are projected to be nearly 1,700 inmates over capacity by the middle of the next decade, forcing corrections officials and state lawmakers to look for ways to slow growth and ease overcrowding.
The state will need an additional 1,325 prison beds for men over the next 10 years, according to the Kansas Sentencing Commission, and about half of those are needed by mid-2018 to meet projected demands, the Wichita Eagle reported.
Lawmakers have made some moves to address shrinking bed space, such as giving inmates extra time off their sentences if they complete certain rehabilitation programs, but they don’t appear to be enough.
“We’re at about 102 percent of capacity now, and we’re doing nothing but going up,” said Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who is chairman of the House standing and interim joint committees on corrections and juvenile justice.
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There were 8,898 men incarcerated in Kansas as of Friday, which is some 99 inmates above capacity according to the Department of Corrections’ latest population report. There were 811 women in prison, slightly fewer than the 837 beds available.
Lawmakers will have several options to consider when they convene in January, some of which come with hefty price tags while others are minor tweaks to sentencing laws.
Corrections Department spokesman Adam Pfannenstiel said the state has contracts with seven county jails and could seek more. It also could ask for more space at the jails with which it already contracts, he said.
Outgoing corrections secretary Ray Roberts said recently the state can safely house 300 to 350 inmates in county jails, but that’s only a temporary solution. On Friday, 79 inmates were being held in county jails.
It costs about $40 per day to house an inmate in a county jail, Pfannenstiel said.
The state also could turn to private out-of-state prisons, but the average per-inmate cost of $55 a day would mean sending potentially millions of dollars to other states, Pfannenstiel said.
Another option is to give certain inmates who complete rehabilitation programs more time off their prison sentence.
Currently inmates can be released 90 days early for finishing a variety of training, and raising that to 120 days would save about 306 beds, he said.
The option with the quickest and most enduring impact on the bed shortage is adding to the existing correctional facilities. During a presentation last week to a joint legislative committee, Roberts outlined a $27 million proposal to expand El Dorado Correctional Facility by 512 beds.
Non-prison alternatives such as expanding programs aimed at people with mental health issues, along with tweaking laws to reduce sentences for some crimes, also will be on the table when lawmakers take up the issue next month.