Photo of Susan Quinn from the Reflector
Susan Quinn Credit: The Reflector

People make mistakes. We all do.

Do we want to decrease the number of crimes people are committing or do we want revenge?

From 1980 to 2015, incarceration in Kansas has exploded. However, violent crimes have not increased in Kansas over the same span. They have remained relatively stable, at about 400 per 100,000.

Here’s what else I learned: The vast majority of prisoners leaving incarceration won’t have valid driver’s license. According to the Kansas Dept. of Corrections, a study of 860 people leaving incarceration in 2022 showed just 46 with valid driver’s licenses. That’s 5%.

How are you to reintegrate into society if you have no valid driver’s license? 

It is nearly impossible to live anywhere in Kansas without a valid driver’s license. At least if you are expected to provide for yourself with a job and go to the grocery store now and then. Without the ability to drive a car legally, how would you get by?

Sure, you are able-bodied. And you want to work so that you can reintegrate into society. But how do you get to work? And who is going to hire you when the first checkbox on the job application is “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Violent criminals should be incarcerated. Frankly, those who exploit others for sex also need to be incarcerated. At least until we can determine what works to decrease violent crime.

For everyone else though, we cannot afford the luxury of revenge. Who exactly are we avenging when we put someone behind bars for having drugs in their possession? If someone is taking drugs, that’s a health issue. They are unwell. When someone is unwell, you send them to a hospital to get help. You do not send a person to jail or prison for a broken leg. That won’t help them heal.

In Shawnee County, where I live, taxes for policing and incarcerating people make up about half of our local county taxes. We simply cannot afford it. 

Think about all the extra money we’d have if we incarcerated fewer people. We might be able to afford to expand Medicaid. We could help localities invest in affordable housing and support the new opportunities the Kansas Commerce Dept. is bringing to our state through APEX.

There have been bright spots. I learned that with funds from the Second Chance Act, Salina recently created affordable housing opportunities for those reentering their community from jails and prisons.

If you didn’t know about the Second Chance Act, don’t feel bad – I didn’t either! 

You are fortunate that your world isn’t shaken with worry over incarceration. The act was signed in 2007 by President George W. Bush in hopes of supporting local governments and nonprofits to work to decrease recidivism and improve outcomes for people leaving incarceration.

There’s another law you should know about: the First Step Act. President Trump signed it in 2018. That one is more complex, but it’s also a step in the right direction. Over the past couple of years, it’s made a difference for incarceration rates.

Alexander Pope created the maxim: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” As people come back to our communities, let’s support their efforts to rejoin us.

Susan Quinn is an engineer in northeast Kansas.