Kansas Declares Staff Shortage At El Dorado Prison An Emergency

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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.

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Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.