Crime & Courts

Corrections budget cuts would spell disaster, parole officers say

A lawyer representing Kansas parole officers said Tuesday they are "greatly concerned" about talk of possible budget cuts that would gut supervision of offenders.

The parole officers, many of whom work out of Wichita offices, are not only worried about losing their jobs, said Sean McCauley, a lawyer representing Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 64.

"The FOP steadfastly maintains that any elimination of the current supervision of parolees would have a disastrous impact on public safety in the state of Kansas," McCauley said in a statement to The Eagle. The FOP represents parole officers working for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Under possible cuts, "You're having more people supervised by less individuals," risking public safety, McCauley said in an interview.

McCauley said the statement is a response to an Eagle story Sunday in which state officials said that a possible 5 percent budget cut would force the Department of Corrections to lay off 125 people or about 85 percent of its parole staff, which currently helps monitor about 6,000 offenders after they are released from state prisons.

The remaining parole officers would have to limit their work to monitoring parolees at a high risk of re-offending.

Under the potential cuts, drug testing of parolees, visits to offenders' homes and GPS monitoring would be cut back.

"These offenders have been convicted of crimes involving gang activity, sex offenses such as child molestation and rape, as well as extremely violent offenses and, if not properly supervised, they would have a greater propensity to return to criminal activity once released from prison," the statement said.

This is the second state budget cycle in a row in which the Department of Corrections has brought up the possibility of eliminating parole supervision, the statement said.

The latest discussion of drastic cuts could be "a result of political maneuvering during a vigorous budget debate," the statement said, adding that the FOP is confident that an alternative to cutting parole supervision could be found.

Parole officers fear that "they're seen as expendable" and don't understand why there aren't other options, McCauley said.

Gov. Mark Parkinson said last week that he opposes more budget cuts to the corrections system; corrections cuts have already limited parole supervision and jeopardized public safety, he said.

But in the midst of an unprecedented budget crisis, most state departments are having to propose how they would cope with a 5 percent cut.

For the Department of Corrections, a 5 percent cut would equate to about $10.6 million, corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said in Sunday's article. To cut spending by that much, the only two options would be releasing inmates early from prison or cutting the parole budget, Werholtz said.

Because he doesn't have the authority to release prisoners early, Werholtz said, cutting parole supervision is the only viable option.

Asked to respond to the FOP statement, Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said: "We agree with the FOP that a dramatic reduction in the level of parole services would adversely impact public safety. We don't agree with all the details contained in their release," including that parole supervision would be eliminated, Miskell said.

The potential cuts "are certainly not things that we want to do," he said.

Under state layoff procedures, staff with more seniority would have "first preference for not getting laid off," he said.

So the remaining staff "would not necessarily be the least experienced," he said.

"Would the remaining staff be overworked? You bet."