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Concerns over state prisons grow with use of county jails E-mail
Thursday, 08 March 2018 12:52

A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal

A new prison to be constructed as a replacement for a 150-year-old structure in Lansing that has housed Kansas inmates will contain more beds.

Just barely, however. The changeover, which was approved as part of a 20-year lease agreement the state entered into with CoreCivic, calls for a 2,432-bed facility housed within a 400,544-square foot structure. The state's largest correctional complex, originally constructed in the 1860s, currently operates with 2,405 beds.

The additional accommodations will be inadequate to ease overcrowding enough to keep the state from housing some prisoners in county jails at an expense that amounts to thousands of dollars per day. The cost last month averaged $3,625 per night and included the use of five jails.

It is estimated that about 80 offenders designated to medium security cells are assigned to county jails each day to alleviate overcrowding in the state system.

Complaints have arisen among prisoners who have claimed they were taken out of programs, such as preparatory work toward a high school equivalency degree, when relocated to county lockups. Liz Rice, director of classification for the Kansas Department of Corrections, expressed surprise regarding such complaints because a goal for programs offered is to help recidivism among inmates by helping them better integrate into society upon release.

A more significant increase in the number of beds at the new Lansing facility would have been optimal. But then, that would have raised the cost of construction even more and created additional problems for a state attempting to solve budget shortfalls.

As it is, the new prison will cost about $362 million through a base-year lease rate of $14.9 million, including an annual 1.94 percent rent escalator clause, according to terms released by CoreCivic, which will provide facility maintenance throughout the 20-year lease term. The state is expected to cover the annual payments through a 46 percent staffing reduction facilitated by the design of the new prison.

Nonetheless, the price of housing inmates outside of the state system is only expected to increase as long as the conviction rate for criminals rises. Even if county jails attempt to provide the best services possible, it stands to reason they can offer fewer programs for inmates who need training and education to avoid the cycle of habitual incarceration.

A thorough evaluation of the prison system in Kansas is needed for lawmakers to gain a firm grasp of issues that affect the safety and welfare of those who are incarcerated, those who are employees with the Kansas Department of Corrections and those who living in freedom outside the prison walls.

Crowded conditions create inhumane conditions that elevate tensions inside prison walls. Prison unrest erupted at state facilities in July and September with riots at El Dorado and Norton, respectively. Double-bunking at both facilities was a contributing factor cited by legislators. In addition, staffing shortages and turnover have become a growing concern.

Among those in positions of authority with KDOC, the superintendent of the state's juvenile complex in Topeka, Kyle Rohr, was recently reassigned after he was issued a citation on a charge of battery after he allegedly grabbed and shoved a female worker.

When former Gov. Sam Brownback advocated for a new Lansing prison, he mentioned the aged structure and poor design and commented, "It just needs work. The place is crumbling down.?

The same can be asked of the state's prison system, especially when based on problems that have arisen within the past year and concerns that mount anytime an inmate is transported and housed in a county jail that was not intended for such purposes.




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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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