Monday, April 05, 2010

Dumb on crime: Kansas cuts diversion programs keeping prison pop down

Kansas is headed down exactly down the path I fear Texas may go if state officials don't seriously consider closing unneeded prison units in the coming legislative session: The Jayhawk State is dismantling treatment and diversion programs that received national acclaim, risking an unintended rise in incarceration costs if more offenders on probation and parole are revoked. According to the Kansas City Star ("Kansas' model parole program collapses with state budget cuts," April 3):

Treatment and support services for ... inmates re-entering society cost $12.6 million two years ago. That was when mental health care, job training and community residential programs for people on parole helped make Kansas a national model for success.

Now the model has been dismantled. For the fiscal year beginning July, the corrections department will get about $5.3 million to fund those programs under Gov. Mark Parkinson’s budget recommendations.

To the taxpayer and government officials desperately trying to balance the state’s books, the short-term savings are hard to resist.

But experts know that a convict ill-prepared for “re-entry” — especially in this job market — may mean only rising crime in the coming years.

Should [an offender] violate his parole and be taken off the street, it will cost about $25,000 each year to incarcerate him.


kaptinemo said...

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."
Winston Churchill

You'd think that after 'doing the right thing' in Kansas that it would have become self-evident as to what worked and what doesn't, but it's always the short-sighted pols who only look to the next election and don't look 5-10-15-20 years down the road, to see where their decisions lead.

Anybody with reasonable intelligence could (and did) note that the orgy of prison building precipitated by the DrugWar these past 20 years was dependent upon an ever-expanding economy not subject to the usual boom-and-bust cycle.

Well, here we are in the midst of the biggest bust since the Great Depression...and we just cannot afford to staff, much less fill, those prisons. And so the time's come to do some real budget cutting. Which is politically dicey, as nobody with political aspirations wants to be slapped with the 'soft on crime' brush.

But like as not, the budgetary axes are quietly being ground in the legislatures, for economics doesn't care about posturing or appearances. It's cut back now...or cut back later when things get really bad.

Michael said...

Thomas Frank still has it right: What's the matter with Kansas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know Michael, I thought about using that phrase in the post, but it's more complex than that: Kansas has been doing some really commendable, impressive evidence-based work. My understanding is that they were hamstrung by mandatory minimum statutes in a way that's not applicable here and their options were extremely limited.

It's frustrating, though, because on this they were doing it right. But at crunch time, fear of being called soft on crime trumped budget writers' better angels. Additional policy changes were needed to cut corrections as deeply as was needed, and they just weren't ready or willing to do it. They're exactly where Texas will be a year from now - they can either double down on the diversion strategy or fold their hand, and they basically wimped out.

kaptinemo: I don't disagree with a single word you wrote, including (perhaps especially) the Winston Churchill quote.

Anonymous said...

We hold communities responsible for reducing recidivism. This may be hard for some to believe but part of recidivism is the responsibility of those who choose to continue in the behavior that led to their being convicted in the first place.

A firmly entrenched belief system also contributes to recidivism. Criminals are often prone to habitually distort their thinking and this leads to a pattern of behavior that renders them dangerous to their community. There are many examples of criminal thinking patterns but I will list just one.

"Unique person” stance. This criminal thinking pattern allows you to think no one in the whole world is like you or has experienced what you have. Rules don’t apply to you. You commit crimes because you never think you’ll get caught. You believe that if you think it, then
it must be that way.

Hook Em Horns said...

"Kansas is headed down exactly down the path I fear Texas may go if state officials don't seriously consider closing unneeded prison units in the coming legislative session:"
Problem 1) Texas officials don't see ANY prison unit as "unneeded".

Problem 2) Texas politicians have built a mammoth prison system (112 prisons at last count) based on telling the idiots who vote for them that crime is really bad and they are TOUGH on crime. They are not likely to reverse this.

Problem 3) Do you honestly believe the dumb-asses who spawned this huge, monstrous prison system have the gonads to shut ANY of them down? Do you?

Michael said...

Scott, isn't your response similar to Frank's book? Common sense solutions to problems are trumped by what is politically popular or expedient. This is true in Kansas and in Texas. So glad my home state of Arkansas isn't like that. :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I suppose, Michael, but it's not all in one direction was my point. A lot of folks in Kansas have been ahead of the curve and this was, for them, a big blow. The stereotype may hold in the big picture, but there have been some forward thinking people doing some good stuff there - a quite a few of them in the GOP.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Boyness, your comments on every single post on this subject have just one theme: "It can't be done." I disagree, mostly because I've been told that before on reform projects (like getting rid of Texas' statewide network of drug task forces) and then sometimes succeeded. Sometimes not. There's never been a horse that can't be rode, never been a cowboy can't be throwed.

I think it's possible to shut down anywhere from 2-6 units next session, depending on whether the Lege can enact policy reforms to justify it. Is it a sure thing? No. Will it happen if nobody advocates for it? Definitely not.

Can't never could.

Hook Em Horns said...

Scott, I say it cant and you say it can. The reality will likely be somewhere in between but my point in driving this CANT theme home is that no one is seriously talking about this. Governor Wig certainly does not seem excited about it (as far as I know, he has said nothing).

Whose going to ride this? Rodney Ellis? John Whitmire?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The budget process will drive it, Boyness. Unlike the feds, the state can't borrow. They actually have to make choices, and in politics they only make choices among a limited array of options put before them by staff and/or advocates. If this is on the table, when the hard decisions are made there's a good chance they act on it.

People are already thinking along these lines. The House Corrections chair has said it's "on the table." Whitmire said it's possible but asked for an exemption (that I think he won't get) instead. Steve Ogden says he opposes such exemptions and all agencies should be cut. Out in the advocacy world, folks like Tony Fabelo, Marc Levin and Ana Correa have been advocating a similar path. Plus, the terms of debate have changed since 2003 because many in the Lege will want to protect the programs they built the last two sessions. If it happens, it won't be something one person pushes: It will be a decision forced upon them by crisis.

Look at it this way: If I'd told you in 2001 after the Tulia scandal, back when Texas had about 50 drug task force employing some 700 narcotics officers statewide, that they all could be successfully brought down during a period when Rick Perry was Governor and the Lege would shift to 100% GOP control, you'd have similarly said it was crazy. But that's when the plan was hatched, and five years later Rick Perry shut down the last of them. Some of it was luck, some timely opportunism, but as with much in life, 90% was just showing up and trying to make it happen. The same is true IMO on this issue.

Like I said, can't never could.