As the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission prepares to meet, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt believes the meeting is necessary, but it isn’t going to be one with easy solutions.
“Nobody should go into this with the idea that criminal justice reform, if done properly, is going to save any money in the short term,” said Schmidt. “It’s going to be very expensive in the short term, if we’re going to do this right.”
Reform needs to have a treatment component for the underlying issues that have caused incarceration.
“Out of the total number of offenders who are in Kansas’ prison system, about 4 out of 10 have significant mental health issues,” said Schmidt. “A substantial portion of those have very severe mental health issues. About half, maybe a shade more, have significant addiction issues, drug and alcohol issues and about 15% are in prison specifically because they committed drug crimes.”
Drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues are the biggest chunks of motivations for criminal behavior, according to Schmidt.
“Unless we’re prepared to do the types of things that have a fighting chance of changing that behavior, then as soon as those folks rotate out of prison for what they’ve already done, their underlying mental illness or their underlying addiction kicks back in and they misbehave again, harming not only themselves, but new victims who are innocent in our community,” said Schmidt. “You have to focus on the types of substance abuse treatment and the types of mental health intervention that at least have a fighting chance of breaking those cycles and changing that behavior.”
Schmidt said in some ways we’ve gone exactly in the wrong direction in the last decade or so. He hopes the new initiative can fix that.