A bipartisan bill co-sponsored by majority and minority leaders of the Kansas Senate would limit privatization at state prisons and maintain the role the Kansas Department of Corrections fulfills regarding day-to-day operations of those facilities.

The legislation was authored after a 20-year, $362 million lease-to-own contract for a new state prison in Lansing was approved by the State Finance Council.

CoreCivic, which is based in Tennessee, was contracted to build the new prison. However, under measures outlined in the bill, which was endorsed by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, CoreCivic would not be granted authority to oversee personnel operations at Kansas adult and juvenile facilities.

Concerns with CoreCivic first arose when lobbyists with close personal relationships to former Gov. Sam Brownback were hired by the company.

While the influence of those lobbyists could have played into the move to keep Kansas prisons privatized, shortcomings that have contributed to lawsuits and complaints against private prison companies were also cited.

The privatization of prisons has prompted concerns over the safety of officers, who have been found to be undertrained while working in understaffed environments with high turnover. …

In some cases, problems incurred outweighed the cost savings private prison companies often advocate. Also, private prison companies benefit from systematic increases in incarceration rates, which provides little incentive for such companies to offer education that rehabilitates prisoners and allows them to become functional members of society upon release. …

In Kansas, it only makes sense for the state to have a role in educating prisoners if, upon their release, they return to Kansas communities.

Their chance of gaining employment, while saddled with a criminal record, requires potential employers to believe that any education and training received in prison adequately prepared and reformed the former inmate. …

The Senate bill that prohibits outsourcing of personnel management operations at state prison facilities may have been designed to mostly address safety concerns, while also protecting state employees who must absorb a significant decrease in staffing when the modernized prison opens in Lansing.

By avoiding privatization, though, another step can be taken by the state to also modernize education and training in an attempt to reduce the rate of repeat offenders.

— GateHouse Kansas