Earlier this year, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order to abolish the state’s Parole Board and transfer its duties to the Department of Corrections. The Legislature had sixty days to reject the order, but in March, the Senate defeated an attempt to block Governor Brownback’s plan. Brownback has argued that the move to abolish the Parole Board would save the state about $500,000 annually.
According to the Kansas City Star, in addition to saving costs, the plan would also “bring the state in line with a national trend to more efficiently decide when convicts leave prison.” However, the proposed shift has raised concerns about whether the concerns of victims’ families will continue to be heard. The existing Parole Board held public comment sessions when reviewing inmates for possible release, and until recently, it had been unclear whether these sessions would be continued by the new review panel.
Opponents of the move argued that the projected savings— $500,000 annually —is not worth “denying victims and their families this outlet for continued grief and suffering.” But, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections, the idea that the public will lose its voice when the Department of Corrections takes over could not be further from the truth. The public comment sessions in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City will continue.
In total, about 15 states have eliminated parole boards, many replacing them with a system of mandatory supervised release upon completion of a certain percentage of the sentence. One such state is Minnesota, which now has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country. On the other hand, according to Carl Wicklund of the American Probation and Parole Association, “a disadvantage of eliminating parole is that convicts have no incentive to participate in prison self-improvement programs because they know exactly when they will get out.” A study by Allen Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 4 percent of people released by parole boards in 1999 successfully completed their parole, compared with only 33 percent who had to be released by law.
To truly save money on corrections, as the Kansas City Star argues, “the state needs more focus on recidivism.” If mandatory parole makes time served more predictable, the incentive for inmates to participate in rehabilitation and education programs may decrease, driving up recidivism rates. After all, keeping people from returning to prison is one way to “really trim the corrections budget significantly.”