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Kansas Advocates Help Restore $6 Million To Keep Kids Out of Prison

September 27, 2019
Courtney M. McSwain

The 2019 Legislative session saw Kansas youth justice advocates rallying together to restore $6 million to the Juvenile Justice Evidence-Based 
Program Fund, established to support evidence-based programs that reduce youth incarceration and serve justice-involved young people and their families. 

The effort stems back to 2016 when the state legislature passed a comprehensive reform bill meant to reduce the number of young people in out-of-home placement. The law called for the money saved from incarcerating fewer kids to be earmarked to fund evidence-based programs that helped youth in the justice system and their families. Between 2016 and 2018, many millions of dollars accrued and many millions were spent, but the fund was left with a remaining balance as policy makers and advocates expected more funds to be required as the staged implementation process continued. Yet, in the final moments of the 2018 session, a few legislators snuck a modification through the budget process that changed the reasons for which funds could be spent and allocated $6 million to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 

"This fund was established specifically fund the crucial community-based services that are necessary for a reform like this to be successful," said Mike Fonkert, Campaign Director at Kansas Appleseed. "Change is difficult. Having dedicated resources to help make that change a little easier and take one of the big hurdles off of the table - how do we pay for this - is crucial to getting counties to buy into overall reform efforts." 

To help get the $6 million restored to the Justice Evidence-Based Reinvestment Fund, NJJN member Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice began working intensely with the Juvenile Justice Oversight Committee, established in 2016 to oversee the reform effort and Evidence-Based Program Fund. The oversight committee, which included the chair of the state senate ways and means committee, sent a letter to the governor, majority leader, speaker and president of the senate pushing back on the legality of funding reallocation. Ultimately, the chair of the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee restored the $6 million through the budget process. 

One of the essential aspects of restoring the funding was the participation of young leaders who advocated for the $6 million to be reallocated back to help keep youth out of prison. Kansas Appleseed worked with Progeny, a youth-led organization in Wichita, and Youth First to bring attention to the funding grab. Young leaders wrote an op-ed and letter-to-the-editor, which was published in the Topeka Capital-Journal, emphasizing the importance of preserving those dollars for their intended purpose.  

The ordeal also illustrated the need to thwart future attempts to take money from the fund. "We worked with the oversight committee to create a reinvestment subcommittee to create a plan for where money will go over time. Now, rather than having the balance of funds with no clear plan  we have a particular trajectory for where money is going now and will go in the future." 

Looking toward 2020, Fonkert says Kansas Appleseed will continue to monitor how the youth justice reform efforts are rolled out and will also take a close look at the adult criminal justice system, which is currently in crisis. As policymakers address the adult justice system, further opportunities for reform at the youth level may present themselves. And Kansas Appleseed will pour much of its youth justice advocacy support into its youth-led allies Progeny and The Seed House 

To learn more about Kansas Appleseed, visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. 

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