Gov. Sam Brownback today signed an order abolishing the state Parole Board and appointed Raymond Roberts, warden of the El Dorado Correctional Facility, to head the Department of Corrections.
In a move projected to save about $495,000, a three-person committee drawn from existing Corrections Department staff will take over responsibility for making parole decisions for the approximately 500 inmates who remain incarcerated with sentences allowing for the possibility of parole, Brownback said.
The new group will also take over the Parole Board’s responsibility to conduct hearings and decide whether to re-incarcerate ex-convicts accused of violating conditions of their parole.
Last year, the board conducted 507 parole eligibility hearings and 582 hearings for alleged parole violations, and reviewed 654 cases in which parolees admitted to violations, board member Patricia Biggs said.
Biggs has expressed concern that abolition of the Parole Board could lead to decisions by Corrections Department officials to release prisoners to ease overcrowding, or, alternatively, to keep people in prison longer to justify expansion of staff or prisons.
In addition, she said the plan raises constitutional issues of due process of law for alleged parole violators, because the same agency responsible for bringing the accusation would also be responsible for deciding the defendant’s guilt and punishment.
Brownback said today that the need for parole oversight is dwindling because the state has moved to a system in which new convicts are given exact sentences that are not open to parole review.
He said it has not been decided whether the new group, to be called the “Prisoner Review Board,” will hold public parole hearings and/or take testimony from crime victims as part of the process, as the current Parole Board does.
Although the Parole Board was created by state law, Brownback’s executive order to do away with it will automatically take effect unless the House or Senate votes to challenge the decision in the next 60 days.
Roberts has had a lengthy career in prison systems of both Kansas and his native Mississippi. He has served as warden at El Dorado since 2003.
Before that, he held positions as warden and deputy warden at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
Roberts is known for encouraging Christian evangelism as part of the corrections system.
At El Dorado, he worked with Central Kansas Prison Ministry to establish a Spiritual Life Center, a building used for Bible study, religious observances, computer instruction and “other wholesome activities,” Roberts said. He said the center is open to inmates of all faiths.
He said he also helped establish a nonprofit corporation to build a similar center at Ellsworth.
He is a former director of the Inner Change Prison Ministry and was correctional consultant to the Soli Deo Gloria Foundation, a group that provides grants to Christian mission activities.
Brownback said Roberts’ focus on ministry as part of the corrections process “gives men and women serving their time the opportunity to change their lives.”
Brownback also signed an executive order formally establishing his “Office of the Repealer,” to comb state laws and regulations for “out-of-date, unreasonable and burdensome” requirements.
“Laws and regulations shouldn’t hinder opportunities for Kansans and Kansas businesses,” Brownback said in a statement.
Kansas Department of Administration Secretary Dennis Taylor will serve as the repealer.