Explainer: The Significance of Kansas’s Justice Reinvestment Legislation

This month, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed a package of bipartisan criminal justice legislation into law, which is designed to increase public safety and improve community supervision.

The policy changes are the result of Kansas’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which the state embarked on in 2020 with intensive technical support from experts at The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Why is this legislation needed?

COVID-19’s impact on Kansas’s justice system has temporarily lowered rates of incarceration and kept more people on supervision or otherwise held in the community. But communities are not equipped to handle the increased population, let alone reduce recidivism and increase public safety. As a result, Kansas is at a crossroads: either pursue cost-effective policies for a safer Kansas today or watch supervision failure rates lead to increases in spending on prisons tomorrow.

Three key challenges were identified in Kansas:

  • More Kansans are being incarcerated for drug offenses, which drives up costs without improving outcomes. There was a 33 percent increase in sentences to prison for drug offenses over the last decade. Prison costs almost 10 times more than community corrections. However, research indicates that a prison sentence does not lead to lower rates of recidivism than probation.
  • People who violate conditions of supervision make up a significant portion of those in prison. Two-thirds of prison admissions and one-third of the prison population in Kansas were due to supervision violations in 2019. The majority of these violations were condition violations. Of the people revoked from community corrections for condition violations, the most common violations, including the one they were revoked for, were for failures to report, abstain from drugs/alcohol, pay costs, and attend treatment.
  • Using prison to sanction Kansans who violate conditions of their supervision is costly. It cost $43 million to incarcerate 1,630 people who violated supervision conditions in 2019. In comparison, it cost $22 million to supervise 8,284 people on community corrections that year—5 times the number of people for half the price.

2. What will the legislation do?

Divert more people charged with drug offenses to treatment and supervision. HB 2026 will expand existing drug treatment infrastructure to encourage more prosecutor diversions and provide certified treatment to more people before they are convicted of crimes.

Improve supervision by strengthening evidence-based practices and reducing inefficiencies to focus efforts where they can be most effective.

HB 2077 will extend the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission (KCJRC) until December 2021. Related to community supervision, the Commission will explicitly work to

  • Create standardized terms and conditions of supervision,
  • Provide a means to consolidate concurrent supervision into one supervision agency,
  • Establish standard effective responses to behavior for all community supervision programs, and
  • Monitor implementation of policies to identify opportunities for coordination and collaboration.

HB 2121 requires the Kansas Department of Corrections to establish standards for parole behavior responses that follow evidence-based practices. This includes the use of incentives for compliant behavior and appropriate interventions for violations. This bill also explicitly defines what it means to abscond from supervision, which directly ties into a non-statutory administrative recommendation to develop an interagency re-engagement unit. This unit will target 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.

3. How was the legislation developed?

In January 2020, Kansas state leaders began using a Justice Reinvestment approach to address the state’s criminal justice system challenges with intensive technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center and support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The KCJRC, a bipartisan group of stakeholders from across the state’s criminal justice system, worked with CSG Justice Center staff to review analyses and develop policy options. These recommendations were then introduced to the 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.

About the Author

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Patrick Armstrong
Project Manager, State Initiatives
Patrick Armstrong evaluates state statutes, case law, and court rules, as well as engages stakeholders involved in the Justice Reinvestment process. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, Patrick worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, as well
as for the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, where he explored avenues to eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He was also an intern for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in California. As a student athlete on the basketball team at the University of California, Berkeley, Patrick earned a BA in political science and African American studies. He earned his JD from the New York University School of Law.
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  • Image for:
    Brenna Callahan
    Public Affairs Manager, Communications and External Affairs
    Brenna Callahan drives strategic media relations and public affairs to advance organization-wide initiatives. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, Brenna managed national communications for a civic engagement nonprofit. She previously developed and managed a communications and economic equity policy
    portfolio for Mayor Marty Walsh’s Office of Women’s Advancement at the City of Boston. Brenna also worked in both development and operations roles at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, where she managed agency-wide programming. Brenna earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MPA at Suffolk University.
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