After two-and-a-half years of work, the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission has advanced a number of recommendations to the legislature that would help people recover from addiction and succeed on supervision. These recommendations were developed during the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which began in 2020.
Kansas continues to grapple with challenges associated with increasing substance use addiction in its population. Drug overdose deaths increased 24 percent from 2019 to 2020. From 2010 to 2020, sentences to prison for drug offenses increased 9 percent, and the number of women in prison for drug offenses tripled.
The use of expensive prison beds for this population was concerning to Kansas stakeholders given that the cost of prison was almost 11 times more than community corrections in 2020. It cost $52 million to incarcerate people for drug offenses that year. Further, research has found that a prison sentence does not lead to lower recidivism than probation.
The state has also been using expensive prison beds to incarcerate people who violate the conditions of their supervision. Approximately one-third of the prison population and nearly two-thirds of prison admissions were due to people incarcerated for supervision violations in 2020. The majority of these violations were condition violations, such as failing to abstain from drugs or alcohol, missing a meeting with a supervision officer, or not attending substance use treatment.
It cost $40 million to incarcerate the 1,307 people who violated supervision conditions in 2020. In comparison, it cost only $22 million to supervise the 8,467 people on community corrections that year—nearly six times the number of people for approximately half the price.
To address these issues, the Commission recommended nine bills described below, building on the three bills it recommended that were signed into law in 2021. The Kansas legislature operates on a two-year cycle, so this legislative package contains four bills introduced in the current 2022 session (House Bills [HB] 2654, 2658, 2673 and 2515) and bills that were introduced in the 2021 session and are still under consideration.
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. (HB 2673 and 2350)
- 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)
- Standardize conditions of supervision and consolidate concurrent supervision (currently, some people are supervised by more than one agency at the same time). Establish research-based standards and practices for all community supervision entities, including standards for effective responses to behavior. (HB 2658 and 2654)
Expand access to reentry and employment support to help people on community supervision and others with previous criminal justice system involvement.
- 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)
- Allow the court to remove deserving people convicted of drug offenses from the public registry to reduce their chances of being negatively impacted during job and housing searches. (HB 2515)
The Commission also proposed that Kansas adopt certain supervision-related system improvements administratively. The state’s supervision entities are planning to implement these recommendations in tandem with the potential legislative policy changes.
Photo credit: Paul Brady Photography via Shutterstock
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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