July 20, 2024

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Prison Fix: Could State Reduce Recidivism, Retain Guards through KCI?

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A partial solution to Kansas’ budget challenges and problems in the state’s prison facilities may be overlooked from the Alvarez & Marsal efficiency study, according to Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican.

Lawmakers spent $2.6 million to commission the A&M efficiency study in 2015. To date, they have yet to implement many of the $2 billion in savings and efficiencies the study recommended, including a proposal to expand Kansas Correctional Industries. Putting more prisoners to work by fully utilizing and even expanding KCI would add about $40 million in new revenue to the state, according to the A&M study.

“It’s killing three birds with one stone,” Claeys says. “Reduced recidivism. Reduced costs, and inmates learn a skill.”

The KCI program employs more than 1,000 inmates from correctional facilities in Lansing, Topeka, and Hutchinson. Through the program, prisoners manufacture things like traffic signs, nameplates, furniture, and traffic line paint. They even tend more than 1,800 acres with 150 head of cattle, and care for approximately 300 horses through the Bureau of Land Management. Some participants work on-site in the prisons while others work offsite, under supervision, at manufacturing facilities. Inmates are paid at least minimum wage for their work, allowing them to contribute to room and board at the corrections facilities and to pay child support, victim compensation, and meet other financial obligations.

Expanding Kansas Correctional Industries would kill three birds with one stone, according to Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican. It would reduce recidivism, reduce costs, and give inmates valuable work training. The A&M study suggests it would be worth $40 million to the state’s bottom line.

Inmates who work for KCI have an average 24.2 percent recidivism rate versus the statewide average of 40.2 percent. Almost every individual who enters a Kansas corrections facility will get out. Samir Arif, Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson, said 97 percent of inmates will eventually be released.

“Keeping people occupied and giving people skills–it’s the difference between life and death for some of these guys,” Arif said.

Claeys says making prison guards’ jobs a little less stressful by giving inmates something meaningful to do might be another avenue to assist in guard retention

In June, inmates staged a sit-in at El Dorado Correctional Facility. A prisoner in the same facility was stabbed during a prison fight a few weeks later, and this month, guards were authorized to use lethal force to subdue prisoners during a three-hour riot at Norton Correctional Facility. No one was injured, but the recent events highlight the need for changes in Kansas prisons.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback announced pay raises for corrections guards in August. The Governor said he hoped the pay increase would help recruitment and retention efforts in the prisons, but the department of corrections is extending emergency shift extensions requiring guards to work as many as 18 hour shifts.

At one point, inmates built more than 100 cabins for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, but those building projects were scrapped after several industry lobbyists, including the Mobile Home Manufacturing Association, cried foul.

State statute only allows governments, churches, schools, state employees, and eligible non-profits to make purchases through KCI, but the Alvarez & Marsal efficiency study recommended that KCI increase its customer base and enforce a mandate that requires state agencies to buy from the program.

“We don’t enforce that law,” Claeys said. “And because we don’t enforce that law, taxpayers are footing a bill and prisoners are sitting idle.”

There are more than 36,000 square-feet of manufacturing space at Kansas correctional facilities sitting idle right now, but expanding KCI requires legislative action. A 2017 bill, HB 2263, that would have allowed KCI to sell products and services to government entities contractors and service providers didn’t receive a hearing last session.

Expanding into the available space would cost the state about $1 million. However, it might lead to great savings over time. A Washington State Institute for Public Policy study suggests that every $1 spent on correctional industries saves $4.77 in future criminal justice costs due to reduced recidivism.

According to the A&M study, if KCI operated at 85 percent capacity and expanded its customer base to include non-state agencies, it could increase state revenues by $7.5 million. Since 2001, KCI has contributed more than $23 million to the state general fund.

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