Incarcerating people for drug offenses is the major cause of the growing population.
A major cause of the exploding size of the nation’s prison population is ever-harsher punishment for drug offenses, including simple, non-violent possession. Between 1993 and 2009, drug offenses were the main driver of new admissions into state and federal prisons nationwide—drug offenses accounted for nearly a third of prison admissions during that period, while violent crimes accounted for just one-quarter of admissions. Kansas has followed this national trend. Drug offenses are the biggest contributor to admissions into Kansas prisons, consistently making up close to 30 percent of admissions.
The following most common offenses resulting in incarceration, typically theft or burglary, rarely account for more than 10 percent of admissions. The sheer number of drug-related prison admissions means that any effective response to the growing prison population will require significant reform in how our state punishes drug offenses.
What is defelonization?
Defelonization makes non-violent drug crimes a misdemeanor, not a felony. It does not change sentencing for people who commit other crimes, such as destruction of property or theft. Kansas has defelonized first and second time marijuana possession but lags behind other states in embracing further reform.
Why do we need defelonization?
Sentences for drug offenses in Kansas are unduly harsh. The state adopted a forward-thinking drug policy in 2003, requiring mandatory drug treatment rather than prison time for first-time drug offenders.
More recent changes to state sentencing guidelines mean that subsequent offenses carry outrageously long prison sentences. As a result, Kansas sentencing guidelines are now more severe than those in the federal system. Many of those who go to prison for drug offenses are in desperate need of treatment for substance abuse disorders or in need of mental healthcare.
Locking these individuals behind bars does nothing to make Kansas communities safer or stronger. Drug offenses resulting in prison time are felonies. Felony convictions have long-term consequences. Long after a prison sentence is completed, conviction can result in a lifetime of exclusion from employment, housing, services, or even getting a drivers’ license. These conditions make it difficult for individuals to resume a normal life. When supports do not exist for these individuals, entire communities suffer.
Ask your senators to defelonize drug possession.
Harsh sentences for simple, non-violent drug possession harm everyone involved.
- They carry enormous financial costs, but do nothing to make communities safer.
- Reforming sentences for drug offenses is a common-sense solution to the growing prison population. Eighteen jurisdictions—including South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming—have defelonized all or most drug offenses. Kansas should follow suit and reduce sentences for simple, non-violent drug possession, by defelonizing those offenses.
- By converting these drug offenses into misdemeanors, hundreds of Kansans will be able to receive needed treatment and healthcare instead of prison—while still being held accountable for the crime.
- Sentencing reform will result in lower costs for taxpayers and stronger communities.
- Defelonization would have immediate, significant benefits for Kansas. This simple reform could result in as much as a 37.4% decrease in prison admissions during the first year, cutting government spending on prisons by $142.7 million. In future years, the benefit of decreased prison admissions and prison spending would increase because currently, people are sentenced to much longer and harsher prison terms if they have prior felony convictions.
Defelonization is not decriminalization.
It would simply reduce the prison population and avoid the cruel burden of a felony record.
Sentencing reform can reduce prison admissions by 36.3% and cut government spending by $142.7 million.