Law enforcement officers and county prosecutors object to legislation in the Kansas House increasing potential good-time incarceration credit to 50% of a sentence in response to crowding at state correctional facilities.
The Kansas Department of Corrections and the Kansas Sentencing Commission support broadening of good-time credit from the current standard of 15% or up to 20% for certain lower-level crimes. Inmates incarcerated for "off-grid" felonies, including murder and child sex crimes, don't qualify for good-time credit and wouldn't be covered by the proposed reform.
Kim Parker, who represents the Kansas County and District Attorney's Association, said the organization's members were opposed to such a sweeping reduction in prison sentences for crimes occurring after July 1. The change would compound challenges faced by prosecutors attempting to explain to crime victims punishment derived from the judicial process, she said.
"Victims are often angry, disappointed and frustrated by the lack of accountability required of a convicted defendant," Parker said. "The task of helping a victim understand that a sentence just delivered by a judge to a defendant can be cut in half by an administrative review of a defendant's conduct, while locked up, does not go well."
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, on behalf of the Kansas Sheriffs' Association, said a central flaw of House Bill 2484 was the 50% good-time credit policy could apply to any crime.
He said growth of jail and prison populations would drive criminal justice reform, but the bill "looks more like an effort to clear incarceration populations rather than an effort to conscientiously consider the need for sentences or the reason behind certain sentence lengths."
Scott Schultz, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said Kansas prisons for men and women inmates were at capacity. In December, crowding in the Kansas Department of Correction's system required the state to send 125 inmates to Arizona and was contracting for 85 county jail beds in Kansas. The state's prisons have space for 9,000 men and 900 women.
Prison population projections indicate the state will need an additional 1,500 prison beds by 2029 without modification of laws or policies of incarceration, he said. The commission estimated the House bill could reduce demand for prison beds by 150 in 2021 and by 2,000 by end of the decade.
Schultz said a study by Pew Charitable Trusts found little or no evidence that longer prison terms for nonviolent offenders prevented future crime. Public opinion sides with reducing recidivism over longer prison terms, he said.
"Another benefit of this legislation is field officer safety," Schultz said. "Less inmates in each correctional facility reduces the likelihood of violence on corrections officers."