By Hutchinson News, Oct. 7
Plans for more prison space highlight short-sightedness of prevention cuts
The Kansas Department of Corrections announced this week a plan for a two-stage expansion of the El Dorado prison as a way to deal with anticipated prison overcrowding.
The expansion, which is projected to cost upwards of $38 million, would house an additional 640 inmates. The Kansas Sentencing Commission recently offered new projections showing the state will run out of prison space by July 2017 and hold more than 5 percent above the department’s capacity of 9,600 inmates.
At full capacity and at an estimated annual cost of $24,165 an inmate, the state could expect to spend roughly $231.9 million each year to house its growing prison population.
Crime is a massive expense that Kansans will pay for in one fashion or another, yet how Kansans choose to approach crime will determine how those tax dollars are spent.
In recent years, spending for programs designed to prevent incarceration have endured budget cuts while experiencing heavier caseloads. But those cuts don’t equal real savings to Kansas taxpayers; the spending is simply delayed until the need for a prison expansion has reached a critical level. At that time, Kansans will be told it is in an emergency situation and that the community’s safety is at risk unless money is allocated to build more prisons and house prisoners.
Adequate spending to programs such as community corrections or money to create new programs like the Reno County Drug Court - which works to keep drug offenders out of prison - are worthwhile investments that address the issue of crime before it ends with thousands of people in prison.
And much crime and drug use has its genesis, at least partly, in poverty. While taxpayers may feel that safety net programs, such as food stamps, are bloated and unnecessary, research suggests there is a correlation between poverty and crime. Whatever we may save on providing food and assistance to the poor likely will more than be consumed by the annual cost of incarceration and the growing need for additional prison space.
Kansans don’t have much choice about whether they will continue to pay for crime, and even the best efforts to educate people and lift them out of poverty will yield a criminal population. But Kansans do have a choice about how to invest in addressing crime, and at a cost of $24,165 a year, per inmate, additional incarceration seems like a risky and costly way to go.