Kansas does not do enough to prepare prisoners for life after they complete their sentences.
The number of prisoners in Kansas continues to increase, but those individuals are not being prepared for life once they complete their sentences. Once they re-enter the community, the are at great risk for returning to prison. Within three years, 36% of those released from a Kansas prison will have returned, compared to the national average of 68%.
Still, Kansas lacks adequate resources, inside and outside of correctional facilities, to assist individuals in reentering the community. Re-entry services are essential to help individuals transition back into the community and have a second chance. Some effective programs exist in Kansas and have significantly contributed to the state's relatively low recidivism rate. However, if these programs received more funding and support, their impact could be greater—and the community safer.
On average, providing substance abuse and mental health treatment
costs taxpayers 77% less than incarceration.
Reentering citizens face many challenges, including lack of education, community supports, substance abuse treatment, housing, and employment opportunities, and financial support.
It is difficult for people with a criminal record to find jobs. They have to disclose their criminal history on many job applications, often leading to immediate screening out of the process. Kansans who have been to prison are less likely to have graduated high school or college and have limited opportunities as a result. Ex-offenders are often unable to obtain a driver’s license, and so lack reliable transportation even to those jobs they may be able to find.
Re-entry services can reduce the recidivism rate in Kansas by 36%.
Every year, that potential impact increases.
A 2006 study found that nearly a quarter of those released from prison in Kansas were homeless, with nowhere to go. Even prisoners who claimed to have living arrangements made before their release found reentry more difficult than they expected and were 7 times more likely to end up in a homeless shelter. The same study found that more than a third of Kansas offenders had been diagnosed with alcohol or substance abuse addiction. Without adequate resources for treatment out of prison, many of these individuals relapsed and returned to prison.
"Banning the box" is a common-sense solution that will reduce recidivism.
Kansas should "ban the box" on applications for state employment through the legislature. "Banning the box" means no longer forcing job seekers to disclose their criminal history at the start of the job application process. When ex-offenders check the "yes" box on an applications' question about their criminal history, they essentially remove themselves from the applicant pool, limiting their ability to find a job to support themselves and their families.
That's why 27 states and hundreds of municipalities—including Topeka, Wichita, and Wyandotte County—have banned the box on applications for most public sector employment opportunities. Federal agencies now delay probing into an applicant's criminal history until later in the hiring process.
Banning the box does not require employers to hire ex-offenders. It simply does not allow employers to screen out applicants before an individual's other relevant qualifications are considered, giving individuals a second chance.
While then-Kansas Governor Colyer signed an executive order to ban the box in public employment in early 2018, this does not have the security of a formal statute. The Kansas legislature should therefore move immediately to not only ban the box on state employment applications but also ban the box for private employers. Nine states have already done so. States that ban the box see reduced rates of recidivism. Communities are strengthened and crime prevented when ex-offenders are able to work, earn income, pay taxes, and bring structure to their lives.
Returning citizens should have adequate access to substances abuse treatment and mental health services. Substance abuse and mental health conditions are significant contributors to incarceration. Treating these conditions is a powerful and effective way of reducing recidivism. It is also much cheaper, with treatment costing 77% less than incarceration does—just $3,600 annual, compared to the $18,000 annual cost of incarceration. By focusing on prevention and providing evidence-based community services, we can reduce recidivism in Kansas and save significant amounts of taxpayer money.
Improving reentry services in Kansas will
→Significantly reduce crime and recidivism;
→Provide ex-offenders with a real second chance;
→Strengthen communities and reduce long-terms costs of the criminal justice system.