Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has been one of the most outspoken conservative leaders in support of criminal justice reform. He declared, “We should not be resigned to allowing generation after generation to return to prison because they don’t have the tools to break the cycle. I personally favor a number of these faith-based approaches. But if there are other approaches, let’s try them. This is an enormous problem, and since the ’70s, we have basically just said we’ll lock people up.”i
Brownback, one of the sponsors of the federal Second Chance Act signed by President George W. Bush to facilitate successful offender reentry, inspired positive changes in Kansas when he told a forum in 2005: “I want to see recidivism cut in half in the next five years, and I want it to start in Kansas.”ii
In response to a high rate of re-offending by ex-prisoners, in 2007 the state legislature funded a range of programs—such as education, drug treatment, and supportive housing—to help them reintegrate. The approach appeared to work: the number of ex-offenders returning to prison dropped by 16 percent from 2007 to 2009.iii
However, in 2010, the inmate count and recidivism began to creep up again after funding was reduced for these alternative approaches. In August 2010, the Kansas Sentencing Commission reported a prison population of 8,269, ten more than the system’s capacity, and the commission projects the population rising by another 2000 over ten years.iv Nonetheless, the state still has far fewer inmates than it was projected to have at this time prior to the 2007 changes.
Republican State Representative Pat Colloton, who chairs the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, is optimistic that, given Governor Brownback’s commitment to this issue, Kansas will renew its pioneering initiatives to reduce both recidivism and costs in 2011.v
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i Marc Levin, “What Conservatives Are Saying About Criminal Justice Reform,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Jan. 2010, http://www.texaspolicy.com/pdf/2010-01-PP02-conservativesaresaying-ml.pdf.
ii Steve Yoder, “Crime and the Governors,” The Crime Report, 27 Oct. 2010, http://thecrimereport.org/2010/10/27/crime-and-the-governors/