Government & Politics

Officials discuss deporting inmates

TOPEKA — Nearly 300 inmates in Kansas prisons identify themselves as foreign nationals, which has prompted a key state legislator to suggest some should be deported to help ease the state's budget problems.

But Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz is wary of a broad effort to deport dozens of the 293 inmates, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported Wednesday. Werholtz said some might not be held in prison in their home nations and might try to return illegally to the United States.

The issue of Kansas confining foreign nationals arose during a meeting Tuesday of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Parole Board Oversight. Its chairwoman, Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said deporting some of those inmates could be beneficial.

Kansas' budget problems forced the Department of Corrections to close minimum-security prison units in three communities and cancel contracts for inmate boot camps. Since July 1, the department said Tuesday, the prison system has had an average daily population of about 8,600, making it 97 percent full.

Gov. Mark Parkinson is preparing to make nearly $260 million in additional cuts or other adjustments to the current state budget by the end of the year to keep it balanced. His plans were prompted by a new, more pessimistic forecast for state revenue last week.

Colloton, who also heads a House committee on criminal justice policy, said reducing the state's prison population by 100 or 200 inmates would "make all the difference in the world."

But the joint parole committee declined to propose that the Legislature push the Department of Corrections to have foreign inmates deported after hearing from Werholtz.

He said about 80 of the 293 foreign inmates might be eligible for deportation under a program operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the agency would have the authority to place them back into Kansas communities pending deportation.

Werholtz said the felons could try to cross the U.S. border, potentially jeopardizing public safety. He said the foreign nationals were convicted of serious offenses in Kansas: murder, rape, manslaughter, kidnapping and taking indecent liberties with a child.

"There is no guarantee that when they return to their country of origin they will be incarcerated," Werholtz said.