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Address prison issues now E-mail
Opinion
Tuesday, 08 August 2017 09:18


A SECOND OPINION, The Lawrence Journal-World



Kansas has a prison problem, and that ought to send a scare through state lawmakers.

It has been clear for some time that the state of Kansas has not been adequately staffing its prisons. Perhaps lawmakers have not recognized this. Perhaps ordinary residents of Kansas have not recognized this. But two groups of people, it appears, have recognized it: prison guards and prisoners.

Significant outbursts by prisoners are becoming more common at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. The Associated Press has reported incidents on May 8, June 24 and June 29 in which groups of inmates temporarily refused to return to their cells. In at least one of the incidents, prisoners temporarily gained access to one of the prison's offices.

Employees at the prison have told The Associated Press that the incidents have been significant and that leaders of the state's Department of Corrections are trying to downplay the incidents. The employees spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they fear reprisals from leaders of the Department of Corrections. That is a sad state of affairs.

But the situation could get much worse. The leaders of the Department of Corrections are probably the ones who should most fear reprisals. They ought to be afraid that some day not enough prison guards show up to operate the facilities.

The state is pushing the envelope with how it treats its employees who do the critical work of operating, securing and keeping order at the state's prisons. The starting pay for most corrections officers is $13.95 an hour. That is not great for the type of work they are asked to do. Prison guards have figured that out, as staff vacancy rates are climbing quickly.

At the El Dorado prison, employees have been required to work four 12-hour shifts per week, and at times have had to work a 16-hour shift on the last day of their work weeks. It is no wonder union officials mince no words in describing the situation.

"Basically, correctional officers are just very despondent and tired, and they are just giving up hope," said Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union representing the officers.

State lawmakers are on a break. Maybe they can pull a few shifts. There are idle people in the governor's office, waiting for the moving boxes to be packed. Maybe they can lend a hand.

Laugh now, but if state lawmakers and the governor's office don't begin to address this situation with urgency, they'll have a full-blown crisis on their hands.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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