Kan. governor wants to transform part of Kansas' largest prison for substance abuse treatment

By rededicating existing space, the largest expenditure would be in professional staff to provide treatment.

By Katie Bernard
The Kansas City Star

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly wants to transform part of the state's largest prison into a treatment center for inmates with substance abuse problems.

Kelly, in an interview Wednesday, said an inmate "could be sentenced to that facility versus being sentenced to Lansing or El Dorado and they could get treatment, intensive treatment. If they get anything when they're in the other places it's really a miracle."

The proposal mirrors a recommendation made in October by the Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission that the state repurpose space in an existing prison to create a 240-bed substance abuse treatment center for offenders.

Kelly's office declined to provide further details on her proposal.

The governor said in the interview that she plans to recommend the addition of a treatment center at Lansing Correctional Facility, which houses more than 2,400 people.

This spring, the Kansas Department of Corrections moved all the inmates in its Lansing prison to new buildings on the prison's campus.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to The Star's request for comment on Kelly's proposal.

Russ Jennings, chairman of the Kansas House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said a treatment center would be important for helping to rehabilitate inmates and ensure those individuals can successfully reenter society at the end of their sentences.

"We lack adequate programming in our institutions right now and so many people who are committed to the facilities have substance abuse and/or mental health challenges," the Lakin Republican said. "Left unaddressed, we shouldn't expect their behavior to change a lot when they get out."

By rededicating existing space, Jennings said, the largest expenditure would be in professional staff to provide treatment.

Kelly said Wednesday the proposal was part of ongoing criminal justice reforms from her administration. Though she acknowledged many of those efforts had been stalled by the coronavirus, she said her office planned to move forward on recommendations from a commission on racial equity and justice.

Kelly has advocated for sentencing reforms that would keep non-violent drug offenders out of prison.

Earlier this year the governor announced plans to move elderly inmates into an unused building near a prison in Winfield.

The state prison system has struggled with overcrowding for years. But last week the Department of Corrections announced that, amid a drop in prison population, 118 inmates who had been moved to a private prison in Arizona were returned to Kansas.

(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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