This month, a package of criminal justice bills aiming to keep people with substance use disorders out of prison and improve community supervision and reentry supports has been introduced in the Kansas legislature. Together, the bills would improve Kansas’s criminal justice system and public safety.
The prison population and corrections budget have grown in Kansas in recent years. The state’s prison population had already reached capacity before March 2020 and was projected to increase 14 percent by 2029, which would cost taxpayers an additional $209 million over that period. Contributing to that projected growth were high incarceration rates for drug offenses and community supervision violations as well as limited reentry support, especially when it comes to finding work after prison.
The state has seen a 33 percent increase in prison sentences for drug offenses since 2010. And an estimated 75 percent of people leaving Kansas prisons or jails need substance use treatment or recovery support. At the same time, probation or parole violations—often minor infractions such as missed appointments or failed drug tests—accounted for two-thirds of prison admissions in Kansas in 2019.
Once people leave prison or jail, they are often faced with limited education, housing, or food assistance. In addition to this lack of support, there are currently over 400 regulations that can make employment impossible for Kansans with criminal records.
To address these persistent challenges, especially in light of the anticipated budget shortfall due to the pandemic, state leaders launched a Justice Reinvestment effort in September 2020. After an in-depth review of the issues, the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission voted to approve policy recommendations in November 2020. The bills that were introduced to the legislature are based on these recommendations. The bills focus on the following:
Divert more people charged with drug offenses to treatment or supervision.
- Amend the drug and the nondrug sentencing grids to better reflect actual sentencing and hold people accountable by requiring supervision when it is safe to do so. Continue to ensure adequate prison capacity for people convicted of serious crimes. (House Bills [HB] 2146 and 2350.)
- Expand existing drug treatment infrastructure to encourage more prosecutor diversions and provide treatment to more people before they are convicted of crimes. (HB 2026 and Senate Bill [SB] 3)
- Require the Kansas Supreme Court to adopt rules for establishing and operating specialty court programs within the state (e.g., drug courts, mental health courts, etc.) and provide mechanisms for funding them, allow certain records to be expunged, and allow certain sentences to be modified upon completion of a program. (HB 2361)
Improve supervision by focusing resources where they can be most effective.
- Create earned compliance credits and allow judges to discharge people from probation after requirements are met. (HB 2084)
- Formalize workgroups to standardize conditions of supervision and consolidate concurrent supervision (currently, some people are supervised on more than one type of supervision at the same time). Establish research-based standards and practices for all community supervision entities, including standards for effective responses to behavior. (HB 2077 and 2275)
- Establish a clear definition of absconder status in statute. Administratively develop an interagency re-engagement unit that targets people who fail to report, are on absconder status, or are at risk of revocation to connect them to resources and successfully re-engage them in supervision. (HB 2121 and administrative policy)
Expand access to reentry and employment support.
- Remove barriers to accessing benefits for food assistance for people with substance use disorders. (HB 2215)
- Remove barriers to employment by requiring individualized consideration of applicants for licenses, taking into account evidence of rehabilitation, time since conviction, the nature of the offense, and other relevant factors. (HB 2370)
These bills are being considered by the Kansas legislature during the 2021 session.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2019- ZB-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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