Kansas prisons

LAWRENCE, Kansas — As an inmate at the Wichita Work Release Facility with only a few months left on his sentence, Timothy Lesher enjoyed freedoms that many in prison don’t. He was a line cook at a Wichita restaurant and bought saline solution from Walmart to clean his CPAP machine, which helps him breathe at night.

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.

Less than two weeks after a judge issued a blistering opinion on the taping of attorney-client conversations at the Leavenworth Detention Center, a settlement has been reached with inmates who alleged their calls were illegally recorded.

The settlement, which needs court approval before it becomes final, calls for the private operator of the prison and the provider of its phone system to pay $1.45 million into a settlement fund for the inmates.

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.

“A Clockwork Orange.” “Invisible Man.” “Twelve Years a Slave.” 

Issues of Bloomberg Businessweek, Us Weekly, Elle.

“Excel 2016 for Dummies.” “Tarot Fundamentals.” “Electrical Theory.”

Over the past 15 years, the Kansas Department of Corrections banned those titles, and about 7,000 others, from its prisons across the state.

Kansas can no longer put off care for Medicaid patients with hepatitis C because of a recent legal settlement. But hundreds of the state’s prison inmates not covered by that lawsuit will have to wait another year for the pricey treatment.

The state spending review panel is freeing up some of the money the Kansas Department of Corrections asked for to place inmates in county jails and private facilities. Prison officials say it’s a last resort.

Kansas may soon turn to private contractors to take the overflow from its crowded prisons, raising questions about growing costs and the reliability of for-profit jails.

That plan ran into complications over the weekend when lawmakers insisted on a closer review from a state commission to OK some of the line-by-line spending. But taxpayers could soon be spending almost $36 million more to deal with a range of problems in the prison system.

Hunter Defenbaugh loves working in prison.

Five nights a week, the 19-year-old corrections officer works overnight shifts in the infirmary at El Dorado Correctional Facility 30 miles northeast of Wichita. He checks on sick inmates, gives them blankets, calls nurses for help.

Defenbaugh likes the job, he says, because he likes helping people. It beats his old gigs flipping burgers at McDonald’s or ringing up customers at Walmart.

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.

Kansas prisons spend almost four times as much on overtime pay as they did six years ago. 

The state paid out more than $8.2 million on overtime in fiscal year 2018 and is on track to spend even more in 2019, with overtime exceeding $5 million in just the first half of the fiscal year.

That’s compared to fiscal year 2013, when the state paid out just $1.8 million in overtime.

Several inmates at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas initiated an uprising Sunday that lasted throughout the early afternoon that resulted in extensive damage to the prison complex.