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by Ashley Maxwell last modified Jul 06, 2015 12:57 PM

Historical Overview of Kansas Paroling Authorities

The system of early release of inmates, which we know today as “parole,” can be traced to as early as 1864. At that time the Governor, vested with constitutional authority, enjoyed the power to commute or reduce an inmate’s sentence when deemed appropriate and advisable. To offer assistance to the Governor, the 1885 Legislature created a Board of Pardons whose function was to review commutation or pardon applications and report their recommendations to the Governor. This was a three-person Board, which met four times per year at the State Capitol. Each member received $5 per day for compensation.

In 1901, the Legislature again addressed the area of early release of inmates and empowered the Governor to set certain inmates free under circumstances and conditions quite similar to today’s parole. In fact, this legislation was the first to ever use the word “parole.” The Governor was required to make certain findings before authorizing an inmate’s release under this system. The Governor had to be convinced that the inmate had served an adequate amount of time to be reformed. The Governor also had to find that the inmate could be released without endangering the community and that the inmate could find suitable employment upon release.

As with today’s parole, conditions were attached to this privileged release. The inmate was required to report regularly to the Warden, refrain from using intoxicating liquors and gambling, refrain from frequenting places where intoxicating liquor was sold or where gambling occurred and refrain from associating with criminals and unworthy associates. An inmate could be incarcerated for violating these conditions and might not again be released until the expiration of his sentence - a much stricter requirement than today.

It was not until 1903 that a release procedure was adopted that was independent of the Governor’s power. The Legislature created a Prison Board comprised of the Board of Directors and the Warden of the Penitentiary. The Board could parole inmates who had served their minimum sentences and had secured residence and employment. Conditions were attached to those releases and revocation was available when conditions were violated.

More than 50 years passed without substantive modifications to the Prison Board or its power. In 1957, however, the Prison Board was abolished and the Board of Probation and Parole was created. This Board had five part-time members who were appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. No more than three could share the same political affiliation and the membership had to include an attorney, a minister, a businessman and a farmer. The fifth member was chosen at-large.

The Board size was decreased in 1961 to three members, who received an annual salary as opposed to the previous per diem allowance. As before, the appointments were made by the Governor and approved by the Senate. The authority to grant or deny parole, and the powers attendant therewith, were vested exclusively in this Board while the Governor retained control over pardons and commutations. After a century of development and growth, the parole system finally emerged. It was allowed to separate from the Governor’s authority and was acknowledged as an independent entity.

The Board of Probation and Parole had the responsibility of deciding who was granted parole and to supervise those offenders who were placed on parole as well as those offenders who sentencing judges had placed on probation. The supervising task remained with the Board until 1974. At that time, the Board of Probation and Parole was abolished and replaced by the Kansas Adult Authority. This Board had five members, with no more than three permitted to be from the same political party. One member was required to be an attorney, and two of the others from the fields of medicine, psychiatry, sociology or psychology. With the removal of parole and probation supervision from its jurisdictions, the Board focused on parole decisions, policies, and procedures, revocation of parole violators, discharge of parolees from supervision and review of pardon and clemency applications.

In 1979, the five-member Board became full-time employees of the State of Kansas.

In 1983, the Governor reduced the Board to three members and this change was ratified by the 1984 Legislature. Also in 1984, the name was changed from the Kansas Adult Authority to the Kansas Parole Board effective January 1, 1986.

Kansas Parole Board members were appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.  No more than two members could belong to the same political party.  Members served staggered four year terms and represented diverse backgrounds, professional training and experience.

The 1988 Legislature increased Board membership to five then during the 1997 Legislative session; a law was passed which reduced the membership of the Parole Board to four full-time members.  This reduction became effective in June 1997 effective July 1, 2003, the Legislature once again reduced the Board to three full time members. 

In 2011, Governor Sam Brownback issued Executive Reorganization Order No. 34 (ERO 34) which abolished the Kansas Parole Board and established a three-member Prisoner Review Board whose members are appointed by the Secretary of Corrections and serve at the pleasure of the Secretary. This change became effective July 1, 2011.

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