Nomin Ujiyediin

Nomin is a Kansas News Service reporting fellow at KCUR.

Prior to joining the news service, Nomin produced All Things Considered at WNYC in New York City and was a host, producer and reporter at KGOU in Norman, Oklahoma. She has an MA from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism, where she focused on urban reporting, radio and photography. She also has a BA from Rutgers University. Nomin was a Knight CUNYJ fellow in 2015, and an AIR New Voice fellow in 2017.

In her spare time, Nomin lifts weights, plays video games and tries to contain her bad New Jersey attitude.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Besides the coronavrius, another urgent topic again surfaced this year: an end to racism.

The Wichita vintage store that Gabrielle Griffie co-owns had been open mere weeks before the coronavirus forced businesses to shut down.

And just weeks after it reopened, Griffie found herself focused on something entirely different, something she'd fought for in 2014 as a high schooler and would lead the fight for now — equality.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday calling for the Kansas Supreme Court to order the release of state prisoners whose lives it contends stand at special risk from the coronavirus.

The lawsuit asks the court to release people incarcerated for minor crimes, within 18 months of release, or who have medical conditions that would make them especially vulnerable to the virus.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — It’s hard for Meg Heriford to tell people they’re no longer allowed to walk into her restaurant. She runs the Ladybird Diner in downtown Lawrence, one of the first restaurants in town to close when coronavirus cases spiked in the U.S.

After one crowded lunch service, Heriford said, she could no longer justify the risk to her staff or customers. The restaurant closed March 14, though she and a small number of staff haven’t stopped working. The Ladybird is offering free bagged lunches for anyone who needs them. Heriford buys the food from her usual distributor, prepares it and leaves it on carts in front of the restaurant.

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A number of eastern Kansas counties have stay-at-home orders to keep the coronavirus from spreading. But some Kansans appear to still be on the move, particularly in western Kansas. 

Unacast, a data company, is able to tell how states and counties are doing with social distancing via cellphone data. Overall, Kansas has a B. But some western counties, including Gray, Ford, Clark, Meade and Seward, received Fs.

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UPDATED March 23, 2020 at 7:55 p.m.

Some of the largest counties in Kansas are ordering residents to “stay at home” starting Tuesday.

Among them are Johnson, Wyandotte, Douglas, and Leavenworth Counties.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — With public and private school buildings closed until August, education officials want students to limit their screen time and spend less than three hours a day learning.

A report released Thursday directs districts to spend five days assessing students’ technology needs, building lesson plans and telling parents what to expect. Districts are required to submit a plan to the state for doing so by early April.

LAWRENCE, Kansas — Kansas’ prisons and many of its county jails have suspended in-person visits indefinitely to keep down the risk of coronavirus spreading among inmates. The only exception is lawyers, who will be allowed to visit their clients.

Correctional facilities’ close quarters and lower health care quality means there’s a higher likelihood of COVID-19 virus spreading, though state and county facilities say they are doing what they can to keep things clean — asking for frequent hand washing, wiping down transport vehicles and phones and frequently scrubbing prison dining halls and gathering spaces.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The University of Kansas and Kansas State University have both delayed the start of classes until March 23, with online classes to follow and the possibility of continuing online-only for weeks after that due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The state lost 13% of its public defenders over the past year.

That’s actually an improvement. Nearly a fourth of the state’s public defenders quit the year before.

But the turnover of those attorneys still represents a chronic problem for the State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, the agency that provides lawyers to criminal defendants who can’t afford their own.

Maban Wright makes $66,000 as one of those public defenders, up from the $43,000 she earned at the agency 10 years ago.

TOPEKA, Kansas — From 2000 to 2019, the women’s prison population in Kansas rose by 60%. Over the same time period, the men’s population rose by only 14%.

That outpaces national trends over the past two decades, according to a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

TOPEKA, Kansas — When it comes to cybersecurity, most Kansas counties are behind. Overall, only eight county websites end in .gov, a domain extension that’s only given to governments.

Most of Kansas’ 105 counties have websites ending in .org or .com. And 60 counties don’t use a basic security protocol called SSL; their website URLs start with “http” rather than the more secure “https.” Both make it easier for hackers to impersonate websites in an effort to install malware, trick citizens into giving out personal data or sway elections.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The new Medicaid expansion bill, the product of a compromise between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and some Republican leaders, would change how state prisons and county jails fund health care for prisoners.

A 73-year-old Kansas prison dental instructor accused of sexually abusing inmates goes on trial Monday.

Tomas Co, 73, taught inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison. He faces six felony counts in Shawnee County of unlawful sexual relations for allegedly kissing students, touching them inappropriately and commenting on their appearances. He was removed from his job in 2018.

Nomin Ujiyediin of the Kansas News Service interviewed the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith, who broke the story in 2019 and will be following the trial. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The same kids who end up in trouble with the law often come from families in disarray.

Those families, in turn, regularly turn to the state for food assistance, foster care or mental health care.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday a plan to form a singular agency — the Kansas Department of Human Services — that would absorb social welfare programs currently handled by three agencies.

The new agency would have a massive statewide presence, employing 6,000 workers, and oversee foster care, mental health services, four state hospitals and the juvenile justice complex. 

TOPEKA, Kansas — This state capital made national headlines in December when it announced it would pay anyone up to $15,000 to move here and work for local companies in Shawnee County.

With a pilot program called “Choose Topeka,” the city joins a long line of places like Vermont and Tulsa, Oklahoma, that offer cash to new arrivals.

TOPEKA, Kansas — It typically took Walt Hill more than a year to recruit a psychiatrist to northwest Kansas. Now he doesn’t even bother.

Instead, the executive director of the High Plains Mental Health Center relies on out-of-state doctors willing to work remotely, treating patients through video conference.

For years, the center has used remote appointments with local psychiatrists to reach patients in far-flung corners of its coverage area, which spans 20 largely rural counties.

TOPEKA, Kansas — One solution to Kansas prisons’ woes could come with a $35 million price tag for three new specialty prisons.

The state’s corrections system only treats half of its inmates who struggle with substance abuse. And as some people serve decades-long sentences, the system finds itself home to more elderly prisoners who need special care as they age.

When Dan Hoyt started graduate school at the University of Kansas in 2016, he knew he had anxiety and depression. He worried about being able to find a job after graduation. And, sometimes, he couldn’t get through his assigned reading.

“When you have anxieties, that gets impossible,” he said. “I'll think about the same things over and over and over again.”

But when he reached out to KU’s counseling services, he was told he had to wait five months before he could get an appointment with a therapist at the Lawrence campus. And getting there from KU’s Overland Park campus, where he took classes, complicated things.

Holes punched in walls. Car headlights smashed. Windows broken. Weapons, threats, sexual comments. Children who can’t live with other children. Children whom foster parents won’t take in. Children who aren’t able to get the mental health care they desperately need.

Kansas foster care contractors and parents say all of these situations have become more common — and more risky — since 2017, when the state made sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system. The changes, they say, removed options for dealing with foster children who have high needs and violent behaviors.

Updated Nov. 15 with statement from the governor: Attorneys for Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly have asked a federal court to remove her from a class-action lawsuit over the state’s troubled foster care program, arguing that she doesn’t actually oversee the system.

The move comes as parents and advocates say that the system continues to traumatize the thousands of children in its care.

Kansans reported more sexual assaults, domestic violence and stalking to the police in 2018, according to a report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Compared to the previous year, it’s a 6% increase in domestic violence incidents, a 9% increase in rapes and a 27% increase in stalking incidents.

But the numbers don’t necessarily reflect an increase in those crimes being committed, KBI spokeswoman Melissa Underwood said.

TOPEKA, Kansas — When it comes to medical marijuana, Kansas may end up looking more like Ohio than Missouri — with edibles and topicals only, no smoking.

The Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs recommended potential regulations on Wednesday for the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. It’s far from the first time the legislature would consider medical marijuana: The Kansas Health Institute says 18 bills have been introduced since 2006.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach agreed to legal sanctions to resolve a disciplinary complaint about his conduct in a voting rights case he lost last year.

As part of the resulting diversion agreement made public Monday, Kobach admitted that he did not properly supervise lawyers and others on his staff while contesting a lawsuit that challenged how he carried out a new voter ID law.

Maria Galvan used to make about $25,000 a year. She didn’t qualify for welfare, but she still had trouble meeting her basic needs.

“I would just be working just to be poor and broke,” she said. “It would be so frustrating.”

When things got bad, the single mother and Topeka resident took out a payday loan. That meant borrowing a small amount of money at a high interest rate, to be paid off as soon as she got her next check.

Even though it’s the offseason, Kansas Rep. Rui Xu says being a legislator is a full-time job.

Over the course of a week, on top of his part-time gig as a freelance marketer, the Democrat spends 20 to 30 hours meeting with constituents in Johnson County, going to events, working on legislation or helping city council candidates run for office.

Xu isn’t paid for that work. Like every other member of the Kansas Legislature, he only draws a salary from the state during the legislative session, from about January to May. This year, his first in office, he got $19,300.

Mold. No heat in the winter. Leaking roofs.

The most common complaints Teresa Baker hears about rental housing in Kansas revolve around poor living conditions that violate state law.

The Kansas Board of Regents voted Wednesday to change the benchmarks for in-state students to attend the state’s six public universities, and class-rank requirements are out.

The move is meant to increase the number of Kansas high schoolers who are eligible to attend Kansas State University, Emporia State University, Pittsburg State University, Fort Hays State University, Wichita State University and the University of Kansas. 

This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2019, to reflect comments from the Bureau of Prisons.

The federal Bureau of Prisons will provide opioid addiction treatment for a prisoner at the Leavenworth penitentiary, according to a settlement reached Wednesday.

Kansas will send 360 of its male prisoners to a privately owned and operated prison in Eloy, Arizona, starting this summer.

The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Friday that it had finalized a contract with CoreCivic to move up to 600 people to Saguaro Correctional Center. The prison is about one hour southeast of Phoenix and about a 12-hour drive from the southwestern corner of Kansas.

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