Can Kansas Lower Its Prison Population and Correctional Spending?

Kansas joins the growing ranks of states that are revising their criminal codes and reforming their correctional system in a bid to lower the expenditure of the corrections system and the number of inmates. However, the efforts of the legislators, who are trying to accomplish this goal through a series of reforms, may be in vain as parallel efforts are underway which call for stricter penalties for certain criminal misdeeds.

The two bills submitted in the House were aimed at keeping offenders who were found with marijuana on their person out of prison, the first two times they are arrested. They also allow inmates to shave off some of their incarceration time for good behavior.
At this time, the state’s prison system is under immense strain with almost 150 inmates over capacity and the situation is only expected to get worse in the future. By 2025, there will be an unprecedented growth of 107% in the incarcerated population. Explaining the gravity of the problem, one legislator explained that the addition of about 1200 prisoners cost the state over $28 million, which is a huge amount considering the fiscal deficit of $600 million faced by Kansas.

Freeing about 150 prison beds would have saved the state nearly $3.5 million considering the annual spending of almost $25,000 on each inmate. While the argument is valid, the positive impact of the bill could be diluted or even nullified if other bills that are aimed at imposing stiffer penalties for home burglaries, scrap metal theft and drunken driving are cleared.