Exporting prisoners not the answer for overcrowded facilities

To ease overcrowding in Kansas prisons, more than 600 male prisoners can expect to be transferred to a facility in Eloy, Ariz., according to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

That’s more than 1,000 miles from Iola; an 18-hour drive.

The separation will cause undue hardship on both prisoners and their families.

CoreCivic, a $1.4 billion private prison operation based in Nashville, arranged the transfer of prisoners.

CoreCivic is also building a new prison in Lansing that the state will lease for the next 20 years until it assumes ownership.

Yes, Kansas has a prison problem. Currently, it has 10,000 prisoners, more than 100 above its recommended capacity. Compared to the national average, that’s not a particularly high number of prisoners; our state’s incarceration rate of 332 prisoners per 100,000 residents is almost half the national average.

Even so, our 12 state prisons are beyond capacity, straining their workforces and budgets. Earlier this year, overtime shifts for guards were mandated at the El Dorado Corrections Facility to deal with staff shortages.

Officials say they are at their wit’s end on how to deal with the crisis. At the state’s current rate of incarceration, the future is even bleaker.

 

THE WORST TIME to make a decision is when backed into a corner.

Such was the case in 2017, when legislators, faced with a strained budget, entered into the agreement with CoreCivic. For its $160 million investment to replace the Lansing prison, CoreCivic will receive $362 million via a 20-year lease agreement, plus, as was proved last week, be given privileges to seek other contracts. The one-year contract to move Kansas inmates to the CoreCivic prison in Arizona is for $6-$7 million.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world because it locks away those who commit nonviolent crimes, have drug habits, or are mentally ill. If they weren’t a threat to society before they were imprisoned, their chances of being one afterward will have certainly increased once they are released.

Privately operated prisons such as those managed by CoreCivic have a less-than-stellar track record in terms of safety and services, according to the U.S. Justice Department. A 2016 report said private prisons experience a higher rate of assaults not only between inmates, but also by inmates on staff.

 

THERE IS another way.

Instead of building more prisons, our goal should be to reduce the number of prisoners.

Rehabilitation and therapy programs are a much more effective way to treat those who abuse drugs or have a mental illness rather than to incarcerate them where they receive little to no help.

Legislators should also reduce the penalties for possessing marijuana and for those who commit nonviolent crimes. Other ideas are to reduce sentences for good behavior and review the efficacy of various mandatory minimum sentences.

The newly developed Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission is reportedly addressing such possibilities, with a report due in December.

It can’t come too soon.

— Susan Lynn

 

 

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