- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas’ top corrections official warned legislators Tuesday that the state will need more prison space within three years, though he’s holding off on asking for money for an expansion.

Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts noted during a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing that state officials expect prisons to be full by July 2016. The state has space for 9,636 inmates and as of Friday, it had 9,541 prisoners, meaning the system was 99 percent full.

Roberts testified as the Republican-dominated committee reviewed GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposals for adult prisons, juvenile centers and corrections proposals. The governor is proposing to boost spending on them by 1.8 percent during the fiscal year that begins July 1, and he’s seeking an additional $2 million for programs for adult offenders.

A law enacted last year aims to keep former inmates from returning to prison for long stretches of time for technical violations of their parole conditions, while also beefing up community corrections. State officials expect a short-term decline in the total prison population, but they anticipate it will start to climb again after July 2015.

“When we get to that point, there will have to be some decisions made,” Roberts told the committee, listing a prison expansion and housing inmates in county jails and private prisons as options.

Roberts said Brownback’s administration is holding off on seeking authority to expand the prison system because it wants to see how well the law enacted last year works.

During his testimony, Roberts said his department has identified $1.5 million in potential savings in the next fiscal year so that it can shift funds to community corrections programs.

But Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said, “How do you sustain that going forward?”

Roberts acknowledged that he didn’t have a “clear answer.”

“We’re just taking it as we go, but right now, we think we have a good plan,” Roberts said. “If we find that a year from now that we have issued with funding, we’ll have to address it at that time.”

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

Kansas Department of Corrections: http://www.doc.ks.gov/

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