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Kansas: Letter to the editor.

Private prisons alarming A task force convened by Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline and led by State Sen. Derek Schmidt is championing the case for private prisons in Kansas, or prisons for profit. This effort is being driven by the capacity of Kansas' prisons, which are near 100 percent. Their argument is that this is a solution to the prison problem in Kansas.

The notion of corporate prisons in Kansas should alarm us all. The concept of deriving a profit from imprisoning human beings glorifies prisons falsely as economic development, profiteering upon the suffering of others. The profit motive and "economic development" become the driving force behind prison construction and the need to fill the corporate prisons up. Additionally, corporate prisons create problems by design, an issue this task force hasn't fully researched, nor addressed.Kansas' prisons are near capacity for a multitude of reasons, the least of which is space. A comprehensive look at the issues, systems and needs of the Kansas Department of Corrections are necessary to address this issue long term. We can't build ourselves out of this problem.

Foremost among these issues is the need to deal with the issue of the transition to freedom from prison to community. In Kansas, the rate of return to prison is more than 65 percent. Last fiscal year, more than 2,000 people returned to prison for technical violations of their parole, not committing a new crime. This recidivism rate is driven by the lack of support for the formerly incarcerated in their transition freedom. Formerly incarcerated people often have a history of drug addiction, mental health issues, low levels of job skills and a lack of educational achievement. Prison life does little to address the primary reasons most people are in prison for. The result is the ever-revolving door of prison, a fact that has become cliche in our culture.

We suggest that resources directed at continuing a failed prison system be directed toward reintegration efforts, not more incarceration. Models of this being done successfully exist around the nation. Presently, the KDOC has a reintegration program in Shawnee County, funded by a federal grant that shows great promise in creating success in reintegration of the formerly incarcerated.Faith-based groups as well have demonstrated successful reintegration programs. Successful reintegration isn't rocket science. Cutting the recidivism rate should be the primary concern of our policy makers. This is where our energy should be directed. The recidivism rate is what is fueling growth in Kansas prison populations. A fact born out by crime statistics, indicating historically low crime rates in Kansas and the nation.

We urge a thoughtful consideration of this issue as we work to return people, our fellow Kansans, to productive lives as taxpayers, family members and members of our community who, like all of us, have made mistakes. This issue will not be resolved by constructing prisons, but by constructing caring communities and compassionate answers.


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