By Stephen Koranda – Kansas News Service/KCUR
The Kansas secretary of corrections calls staffing shortages at a state prison an emergency.
Worker shortages are a persistent problem the state prison system. Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said it’s especially bad at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where staff already work long shifts. The prison holds about 1,700 inmates and currently has about 85 unfilled jobs.
The emergency declaration gives the Department of Corrections the authority to hire temporary staff and require employees to work even longer hours.
“But I’m hoping that we can get some more bodies in the door fairly quickly and get them some relief,” Werholtz said in an interview.
Gov. Laura Kelly told a group of union members Tuesday that she the long hours will have to continue while the administration works to fill dozens of vacancies.
“I know that’s not healthy, but we do have an emergency situation right now so we have to take some pretty drastic action,” she said.
Agency officials are trying to send a message to staff urging them not to be discouraged by the long hours.
“Hang with us, because we’re trying to fix this problem,” Werholtz said. “But it’s not a quick fix and it’s not a cheap fix.”
It’s the result of years of mismanagement and underfunding, Kelly said. The depth of the problems only became clear to her as she took over the governorship last month.
Members of the Kansas Organization of State Employees said their concerns about prison staffing haven’t been taken seriously in recent years.
“We are encouraged that Gov. Kelly is taking this critical situation seriously,” Union President Sara LaFrenz said in a statement.
The lack of staff has played a part in recent riots at Kansas facilities, according to the lawmaker who chairs the House corrections committee. That includes incidents at El Dorado in 2017 and 2018.
Republican Russ Jennings said fewer staff mean inmates spend more time in their cells.
“Tension rises, the potential for violence rises,” Jennings said in an interview.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for the Kansas News Service Kansas, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.