Criminal Justice Reform in Kansas

When Governor Sam Brownback (R) took office from then Democrat Governor Parkinson at the start of 2011, the state faced a budget deficit of $500 million; however, Kansas has created a budget surplus of $500 million since then — a remarkable increase in spendable state money that could be used to fund programs that will help reduce recidivism.

One of Governor Brownback’s first action items as Governor was to sponsor the Second Chance Act, which supported reintegration programs for ex-offenders. In support of this bill, Kansas State Legislature funded education, drug treatment, and supportive housing programs to help with re-entry in 2007. Within just two years of their inception, these programs helped reduce the recidivism rate by 16%. However, after funding was cut for these programs, recidivism began to rise again, and in late 2010, the Kansas Sentencing Commission reported prisons reaching overcapacity.

Despite the increase in the overall prison population, there was a decline of more than 50% in juvenile arrests from 2004-2013, as well as a drop in violent juvenile crime. Even with this decrease, though, a 2013 DOJ report stated that the juvenile incarceration rate was the 6th highest in the nation. To address this problem, Governor Brownback signed legislation in April of 2016, which targeted reintegration efforts toward the underperforming juvenile justice system, a measure that caused the juvenile incarceration rate to fall.

Even with this good initiative, the House failed to pass three important reform bills in 2017 that would have readdressed how felony convictions were viewed by state licensing, certification, and registration agencies; expanded diversion programs; and reformed forfeiture laws. In 2020, Kansas created a criminal justice reform commission to review sentences for criminal offenses and ensure they are proportionate to the crime, and address other problems in the system.

Kansas has done a lot of great work; however, there are still major issues to address.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.