Corrections concerned about cuts

By The Mercury

Riley County’s director of community corrections voiced concern Thursday about reports that the Kansas Legislature could terminate programs such as hers during the coming legislative session, saying that step could put public safety at risk.

Shelly Williams spoke during a session designed to brief members of the local legislative delegation on county interests concerning issues that may come up in Topeka. Among lawmakers in attendance were State Sen.–elect Tom Hawk, Reps. Sydney Carlin, Tom Phillips and Richard Carlson, and State Rep.-elect Ron Highland.

Williams said that community corrections programs are already suffering due to reduced funds the past three years. She added that personnel expenses are still going up.

“Since 2008, state community corrections (programs have) experienced a 7 percent reduction in funding … while the offender population has grown by 7 percent,” Williams said.

Williams projected that the local community corrections population will add 570 offenders in the next five years. If funding is not increased, however, she said around 37 percent — or almost 200 of those offenders — would be left in the jail population because there would not be enough community corrections personnel to handle the workload.

But her personnel might have a bigger problem than just handling a large workload. Williams said there are whispers of a potential 10 percent budget cut for state agencies that would eliminate funding for community corrections. She said that action could cause safety issues.

Williams said that around 47 percent of her offenders were charged with drug crimes. She worries that without the proper drug testing and rehabilitation services normally provided by community corrections, these people could become a threat to the public.

“I live in this community and it will be a much less safer place,” Williams said.

Williams said that statewide around 8,000 offenders would go unsupervised; for Riley County that would be about 170 offenders. Williams said that those in the Community Corrections programs for misdemeanors and low-level felons would be placed into Court Services, but that agency’s budget ” doesn’t look much better than community corrections.” She said court services workers would experience even higher caseloads and be unable to add more personnel.  So most offenders would end up either in prison, driving up correction costs, or in the public unsupervised.

“This is very powerful information,” Phillips said.  “I think we all realize this storm that is coming, from the federal level down to the state, and it’s going to impact the local (governments).”

Phillips acknowledged the discussion would come down to money, “because that’s the lynchpin,” but added that we are going to think outside the box. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s reality.”

The legislators in attendance said they will take the information at the conference back to Topeka and try to get the local issues into the discussion.

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