Drug and mental health treatment and rehabilitation in prisons and communities are necessary for true criminal justice reform, said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
“If we want to do meaningful criminal justice reform, we have to be prepared to do the types of things that have a chance of changing the behavior of people that have run afoul of the system,” Schmidt said. “Meaningful reform means you have a chance over time of driving down your recidivism rates. If that is your view of reform, and it is mine, it means you have to spend money. It’s not cheap.”
Schmidt stopped at the Reflector-Chronicle on his way to visit the Ellsworth Correctional Facility and discussed reform last week.
“As part of our criminal justice reform discussion, I wanted to actually see all of the facilities,” he said.
Later he was going to Sterling College to talk about its criminal justice program.
Schmidt recently appointed a 21-member task force on criminal justice reform to address the fate of recidivists cycling in and out of jails and prisons.
He said the bipartisan commission must complete a detailed analysis by December 2020 that realistically deals with repeat offenders driven to misconduct by addiction and mental health challenges.
Most criminal misbehavior is caused by mental illness and substance abuse, he said.
“Those are not the only drivers but they are the two biggest ones,” he said.
“That’s my view of criminal justice reform. Your measure of success is that you have viewed people offending over a period of time,” he said. “You have fewer victims. You have safer communities and you get the other byproducts like lower costs.”
However, different people mean different things when they say criminal justice reform.
“You get the different view of criminal justice reform which is all about saving money in the short term,” he said.
He said Kansas has more people in state prisons that it has capacity.
That becomes a numbers game of 10,000 prisoners and 9,800 beds.
“We have to have fewer people in state prisons and jails,” he said. “If there was a perfect answer we probably would have done it already.”
Schmidt said there are offenders that shouldn’t go to prison but Kansas doesn’t have enough facilities for treatment.
“We are already over capacity at Osawatomie,” he said. “We can’t get enough people hired to run the capacity that we have at Larned so we are constrained.”
The Osawatomie State Hospital provides care and treatment for adults diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.
Larned State Hospital is the largest psychiatric facility in the state, serving the western two-thirds of Kansas.
“We don’t have those midrange options where somebody is removed from the community for the safety of the community but instead of being locked up for the sake of incarceration is put in a secured facility where the underlying motivation for the misconduct gets treated,” Schmidt. “That middle option is the biggest piece that we are missing.”
He said the task force is working on making some initial recommendations soon.
“The Legislature ought to consider constructing some of these dedicated facilities. It’s a middle ground between the group that says ‘We’re not building anymore space’ and the group that says ‘You can’t just open the doors and let people out. There is a reason they are denied their liberty.’ Maybe the smart thing to do is to just add some space but don’t just add another prison. Add some dedicated space for drug rehab and dedicated inpatient facility out in the community, some dedicated mental health space and see where that gets us,” he said. “At least we are focused on, back to the bigger point, trying to do the things that can change the underlying behavior so they don’t reoffend when you put them back out into the community, which I think ought to be the goal.”
Schmidt that Kansas has a work release facility in Wichita.
It’s a minimum security state-run Wichita Work Release Facility in the middle of downtown Wichita.
“It’s a very impressive facility. It has 240 beds, minimum security and it does the type of things we are talking about,” he said.
It does drug intervention.
“It is competitive within the DOC (Department of Corrections) system to try to get into that facility. If you are an inmate and otherwise qualify, you have to compete with those 240 beds,” Schmidt said. “So they tend to get inmates that are somewhat self-motivated.”
He said a similar facility could be in other major cities that could provide jobs.
“It’s an impressive model. We don’t have to reinvent it. We’ve got it,” he said.
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.