Kansas governor works on program to provide mentors for poor
Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that his administration is working on developing a new program to provide volunteer mentors to poor Kansas residents receiving state social services after seeing similar programs help hundreds of adult prison inmates and juvenile offenders.
The Republican governor had a Statehouse news conference to promote the mentoring programs for offenders and to publicly urge more Kansas residents to volunteer as mentors. It also was the last of four events across the state this week with retiring Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts, highlighting programs aimed at ensuring that ex-offenders succeed once they leave state custody.
Brownback, state officials and participants said the mentoring programs for prison inmates and juvenile offenders help prevent them from committing new crimes by providing support for them after they're released. Both programs begin the mentoring when the offenders are in state custody.
"I think it could help us on getting people out of poverty and keeping them out of poverty," Brownback told reporters. "We're working now and talking about, how could we design this, again on a voluntary basis, for somebody that's in and using one of the poverty programs now?"
Brownback said he's been discussing the idea with Department for Children and Families officials. He acknowledged that he doesn't have a timetable for outlining the details of the programs.
One issue, he said, is the size of a potential mentoring program for the poor.
The program for adult inmates, started after Brownback took office in 2011, provides mentors for more than 6,400 offenders and ex-offenders. The juvenile program started last year and mentors 100 young offenders, and officials hope to increase that to 300 over the next year.
More than 13,400 Kansas residents receive cash assistance from the state, while 268,000 receive food assistance. Nearly 370,000 have their health care covered by the state's Medicaid program.
"It's just the numbers are larger," Brownback said. "You just need people with good hearts willing to step up and help out."
Roberts said the state spends about $5 million a year on programs for offenders and an additional $3 million for behavioral health programs.
"This has really been the missing link that we've had — the mentoring program — because it follows the offender out into the community," Roberts said.
Joining Brownback and Roberts at the news conference were former juvenile offender Anna Hockett, 19, a student at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College, and her mentor, Linda Hodgson, 62, a retired hair stylist from Topeka.
"It feels like I have kind of a support net with her," Hockett said.