Government & Politics

Gov. Sam Brownback praises Johnson County effort to counsel and treat criminal offenders

Gov. Sam Brownback spoke Tuesday with clients at the Adult Residential Center in Johnson County. The facility provides counseling and a structured environment for probationary offenders.
Gov. Sam Brownback spoke Tuesday with clients at the Adult Residential Center in Johnson County. The facility provides counseling and a structured environment for probationary offenders. dhelling@kcstar.com

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said Johnson County’s Adult Residential Center could be the model for treating many of the state’s criminal offenders.

Brownback made the comment Tuesday after touring the campus of the center near Olathe. The 398-bed facility provides a structured living environment for high-risk offenders on probation, combining intense counseling and teaching with supervised access to employment.

The county and Brownback believe the ARC facility eventually saves money while helping criminals adjust their behavior as they pay debts and support families.

“Surrounding that offender that’s coming out, to get them a job, to get them mental health assistance, to get them substance abuse assistance, they do a first-rate job of this,” Brownback said. “When you invest in that, you’ll reap from it.”

Officials at the center said they supervise about 240 residents each day at an annual cost of roughly $8 million. The bulk of the funding comes from county taxpayers. Residents also pay a small daily fee.

The Brownback administration was criticized in July when it cut more than $1 million from the state’s community corrections budget to help cover a state spending shortfall.

But his administration said the money wasn’t needed because fewer offenders than expected took part in community-based programs.

The community corrections budget provides state money for the two residential centers in Kansas, ARC in Johnson County and one in Sedgwick County.

The Republican governor also urged a greater focus on integrating mental health services between counseling and law enforcement. He said those programs should be local because “I just don’t see people willing to go back to that model of big mental health hospitals. Maybe I’m wrong. But they will do community mental health.”

During his 45-minute tour, Brownback visited classrooms where residents met with counselors and looked for work. He chatted with four clients, interrupting a midday card game.

One resident told the governor the facility helps keep him on the “straight and narrow,” bringing structure to his life.

“They want you to succeed,” Brownback responded. “But it’s still going to be up to you.”

The governor will visit the state prisons in El Dorado and Ellsworth on Wednesday, part of a three-day effort to focus on corrections-related issues.

Department of Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts recently announced his retirement.

Dave Helling: 816-234-4656, @dhellingkc

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