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Kelly, Koch Industries agree on Kansas prison reform need

December 21, 2018
In this photo from Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, Kansas Gov.-elect Laura Kelly answer questions from reporters during a break in a legislative meeting at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly, a Democrat, races a push in the Republican-controlled Legislature to cut state income taxes to offset a revenue windfall caused by changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Incoming Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Wichita-based Koch Industries agree that the state’s prison system needs reform in response to an increasing inmate population.

Kelly has said in recent public comments that she wants the state’s prison reform to mirror recently-passed federal legislation addressing sentencing laws for low-level offenders — legislation that Wichita-based Koch Industries strongly supported.

The discussion comes as the state’s prison system experienced its largest increase in inmates in a decade and the inmate population is projected to exceed capacity within the next couple years, The Wichita Eagle reported .

“Right now we are incarcerating many, many people who are non-violent, first-time drug offenders. Those folks no more belong in prison than you or I. What they need, if anything, is treatment,” Kelly told an audience in Topeka recently.

The U.S. Congress passed a bill this week that expands rehabilitation programs, which could result in shorter sentences for non-violent federal offenders. President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday.

Koch Industries also supported Gov. Jeff Colyer’s executive order in May prohibiting state agencies from asking job applicant’s about their criminal record during the initial stage of the application process.

“Governor (Sam) Brownback and Governor Colyer were tremendous advocates for criminal justice reform, particularly on re-entry. So, it’s great to have Governor-elect Kelly echoing their commitment. We look forward to working with the incoming administration to advocate and to implement much-needed reforms in Kansas,” Koch Industries spokesman David Dziok said.

Kansas’s male inmate population will exceed capacity in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019, according to projections from the Department of Corrections. The state’s prison population is forecast to grow by more than 2,000 inmates during the next 10 years, an increase of nearly 21 percent, according to the Kansas Sentencing Commission.

As of June, Kansas prisons housed 9,973 inmates. By 2028, that number is projected to rise to 12,054.

The number of inmates sentenced for drug offenses is expected to grow at an even faster pace, with an additional 439 drug-offense inmates by 2028, a nearly 29 percent increase, the commission said.

But Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist for several Kansas law enforcement associations, cautioned the legal system is not incarcerating a large number of people for simple possession of drugs.

“There are those that go in . but they’re usually not marijuana offenders,” Klumpp said. “They’re offenders of hard drugs who have multiple convictions and just don’t go into treatment programs.”

Kelly might find bipartisan support for changing sentencing laws. Rep. Russ Jennings, a Lakin Republican who chairs the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, agreed the prison system faces serious capacity issues, which could eventually trigger federal intervention.

A coalition of groups called Kansans for Smart Justice is working for broad prison reforms, contending the state’s criminal justice system needlessly incarcerates people and works against those trying to make a fresh start. Other reforms could include legislation that standardizes and promotes diversion for non-violent offenders and removes non-violent drug crimes as felonies.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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