Kansas Official Urges State To Not Slash Treatment Budget For Drug Offenders

By McCarton Ackerman 11/09/15

One state official hopes to preserve a successful program facing the axe from the state's ongoing budget crisis.

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Republican Gov. Sam Brownback
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Kansas is dealing with a potential budget crisis, but a top official in the state is urging legislators to preserve funding for substance abuse treatment for drug offenders.

Scott Schultz, the Kansas Sentencing Commission's executive director, spoke with the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight about the importance of keeping the annual $6.6 million budget devoted to treating first- and second-time offenders that ultimately keeps them out of prison. The committee is also simultaneously reviewing a proposal to spend $27 million to expand the state’s maximum security prison outside El Dorado.

Kansas legislators began diverting non-violent offenders to drug treatment in 2003 as a means of controlling the state’s rising prison population. However, funding for the program has declined in recent years. It peaked at $8.6 million in 2007 before gradually dwindling down to its current amount. Schultz says the committee has managed with a smaller budget by shortening inpatient treatment stays, but insisted that reducing the program’s budget further would impact its overall quality.

Schultz suggested that the program could be expanded to include those engaged in petty theft to support their drug habit or who sell small amounts of drugs, citing a study released last year by the University of Cincinnati which showed that drug treatment greatly reduces the chance of offenders receiving another conviction. Schultz also argued that diverting non-violent offenders to drug treatment saves the state money in the long term. Treatment has cost an average of $4,300 per offender per year, compared with $25,000 per year to house them in prison.

Schultz’s proposal is similar to one brought up last July by the Department of Justice, which wants to expand access to drug treatment in prisons by revising a program run by the Bureau of Prisons.

Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, said that “no firm decisions have been made” on how the state’s budget will be balanced.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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