TOPEKA — Illegal sex is a problem in Kansas prisons, but it's not as widespread as inmates and staff suggest, the state's top prisons official said Monday.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz responded to an investigation by the Topeka Capital-Journal, which reviewed hundreds of documents on the Topeka Correctional Facility and interviewed inmates and prison employees. The investigation concluded as many as a third of the prison's 250 staff members have been involved in an illegal market, including exchanging sex with female inmates for drugs.
Corrections Department officials have said a more realistic estimate is 2 percent of the 3,000 employees at the state's eight prisons, and Werholtz agreed with that. But he said even one case was too many.
"The reporting that has been done doesn't rise to the level that is being portrayed, but I don't want to minimize that even one instance is OK, because it's not," he said. "If we have evidence, we will refer the case for prosecution."
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In September, the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general reported sexual abuse of inmates by workers in U.S. federal prisons had doubled in the previous eight years. The report found 257 cases were uncovered and referred for prosecution, but only 102 were prosecuted. The cases resulted in 83 convictions against prison employees.
One Kansas case included in the federal report involves former vocational plumbing instructor Anastacio "Ted" Gallardo, who admitted in court that he brought tobacco and drugs to prisoners at the Topeka facility and had sex with at least one inmate.
He pleaded guilty to the crimes and was placed on two years' probation. An order to register as a sex offender has been stayed pending appeal.
Werholtz said any sexual activity in the corrections system is illegal, and cases are referred to prosecutors if the allegations can be backed up.
Kansas allows inmates to report abuses anonymously in surveys done every 120 days. That's how Gallardo's crimes were discovered, and other allegations made the same way have been investigated by corrections employees and referred for prosecution, Werholtz said.
He didn't have an exact number of how many cases had been referred for prosecution.
Gov. Mark Parkinson said in a statement Monday he was confident in the Kansas prison system's procedures, but he also takes the concerns from staff and inmates seriously.
"Nobody should be abused or exploited," Parkinson said. "There are always ways to improve, and I will be working with the Department of Corrections to identify ways to further minimize misconduct in our corrections system."
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday he spoke with Werholtz last week and was comfortable with the internal investigation. Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, said he hasn't heard of problems in Topeka or the other state prisons that merit legislative investigation.
The number of abuse cases reported and prosecuted in Kansas and nationwide has increased with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, Werholtz said. He didn't have a figure, but said the increase was slight and expected because the law gave inmates and staff new ways, such as the confidential surveys, to report abuses.
Kansas also has installed more cameras to monitor inmate activity, and every employee receives ongoing training about sexual activity. Given those steps, Werholtz was surprised at the high estimate of illegal activity.
"I don't know where that impression is coming from," he said. "If it is coming from staff, they are legally and ethically obligated to report activity that violates policy."