Tough talk on crime is cheap. What’s costly is paying for prisons and deterring recidivism.
As a Friday speech in Wichita by Kansas Department of Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts made clear, state leaders will need to do more to help the prison system cope with budget problems, including by expanding and improving intervention and post-release programs cut during the downturn.
Last month Roberts’ well-founded concerns got the attention of his boss, Gov. Sam Brownback, whose line-item vetoes of the 2013 Legislature’s two-year state budget restored $2.7 million to the Department of Corrections for fiscal year 2014 and spared it $10 million in cuts for fiscal 2015.
But the system still took a cut of $4.7 million to $5.7 million for the year that began July 1, and the sobering facts that Roberts mentioned in his address to the Wichita Pachyderm Club call for more attention in Topeka:
As for the well-intentioned calls to reserve prison beds for violent criminals and treat drug offenders and mentally ill inmates in community-based settings: “Some of those drug offenders, if you look at their record, you wouldn’t want them released,” Roberts said. “Some of our mentally ill offenders have committed some tough crimes.”
In the message last month accompanying his veto of the Department of Corrections’ entire 2015 budget, Brownback said he looked “forward to working with the 2014 Legislature in finding the department sufficient resources to ensure public safety is not imperiled.”
As he does, Kansans will need to remind lawmakers that being tough on crime means more than passing bills.
It also means paying the bills for prisons, parole officers, juvenile delinquency prevention and more.