Kansas Launches Bipartisan Effort to Address Criminal Justice and Fiscal Challenges

September 11, 2020

Facing a state budget shortfall and the need to address recent prison population growth, state leaders and the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission have launched a bipartisan effort to save taxpayer dollars and reinvest those savings in proven strategies that control corrections costs and enhance public safety.

The effort, part of the federally funded Justice Reinvestment Initiative, will examine a variety of areas within the state’s criminal justice system and provide opportunities to positively address trends in the state, including high rates of unemployment among previously incarcerated people and prison admissions among people who have committed low-level crimes and individuals on supervision who didn’t commit a new crime but violated the terms of their probation or parole.

These challenges left Kansas with a growing prison population that was already at full capacity before March 2020, with a projected increase of 14 percent by 2029 at a cost of $209 million.

Kansas also struggles with the rate at which people return to prison. In 2019, two-thirds of state prison admissions were due to people violating the terms of their probation or parole supervision. The majority of these admissions were the result of technical violations and supervision sanctions, which are often due to minor violations, such as failed drug tests or missed curfews and appointments. Probation violations accounted for 41 percent of admissions and parole accounted for 17 percent.

Along with assessing why supervision violations are contributing so substantially to the prison population, the Justice Reinvestment process will also explore ways to address barriers to successful reentry, including substance use disorders, employment, and housing challenges that people in the justice system often face.

Kansas’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which was jointly initiated by leaders from the state’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches, will include an extensive review of the state’s criminal justice system by The Council of State Governments Justice Center. The national, nonpartisan organization, which is known for developing research-driven public safety strategies, will ultimately share its findings and develop policy recommendations with guidance from the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission.

What They’re Saying:

“Kansas prisons are seeing the same people returning again and again. It’s a cycle that is costing our state precious resources and, with the vast majority of people sent to prison expected to return to society, it doesn’t do enough to ensure the safety of our residents. As we seek to identify where improvements can be made in our system, Justice Reinvestment will help us ensure we are using our resources effectively.”

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, chairman of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

“Justice Reinvestment will provide the commission with a detailed understanding of the state’s criminal justice data and aid our work to establish a coordinated response to critical public safety concerns. While we must hold people accountable for the crimes they commit, we also want to ensure that our response follows what is proven to work in order to ensure public safety, second chances and ultimately redemption when warranted.”

Kansas Rep. Stephen Owens, vice-chair of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

“It’s no secret that people with criminal records have significant difficulty finding and sustaining employment and housing. We’re eager to dig into the obstacles they face so we can ensure that people who paid their debt to society are set up with a fair shot at a second chance.”

Kansas Rep. Gail Finney, member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

“Justice Reinvestment has a track record of helping states on issues similar to those Kansas is facing, including our neighbors in Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska. The process will help give us a comprehensive understanding of how people are moving through the criminal justice system.”

Kansas Sen. Rick Wilborn, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

“Justice Reinvestment will provide our state with critical and actionable information at no cost to Kansans as we continue our bipartisan effort to develop criminal justice reform recommendations for next year’s legislative session. This process will give the commission a deeper understanding of what is causing our criminal justice challenges and provide us with strategic information to guide our future decisions.”

Kansas Sen. David Haley, member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

“We know that Kansas’s reentry and behavioral health services can be effective, but not if people can’t access them. People in our rural areas are particularly missing out on these opportunities, and it’s hurting the chances of success for people on community supervision. This issue makes identifying reinvestment opportunities that much more important.”

23rd Judicial District Chief Judge Glenn Braun, member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission

Photo by Megan Burns on Unsplash

About the Authors


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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
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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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    Sheridan Watson
    Public Affairs Manager, Communications and External Affairs
    Sheridan Watson manages public affairs activities and provides communications support for state-based justice reinvestment projects. Prior to joining the CSG Justice Center, she served for more than 10 years as a spokeswoman and communications advisor for three members of Congress.
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    Previously, she managed a portfolio of policy issues for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and served in communications roles at Aetna, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Sheridan earned her ABJ in public relations from the University of Georgia and her MA in legislative affairs from The George Washington University.
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