Kansas prison closing will mean lost inmate labor

EL DORADO, Kan. | The closing of the minimum-security unit at the El Dorado Correctional Facility will mean the loss of thousands of hours of inmate labor, officials said.

The Kansas Department of Corrections announced the prison's closing this week. The closing, part of $6 million in cuts the Department of Corrections is making, is projected to save the department $1.2 million.

But officials from El Dorado State Park, the city of El Dorado and Butler County say they are uncertain how they will make up for the lost labor, which they depend on for jobs like park maintenance, construction and landfill maintenance.

Bill Miskell, Department of Corrections spokesman, said there are about 100 inmates at the unit in El Dorado. He said they will be spread throughout the state, including Winfield, where the majority will likely be moved by July 1.

Rep. John Grange, R-El Dorado, is hoping he and others can convince the Department of Corrections to keep the unit open. Part of his concern is over the economic fallout the loss of inmate labor will cause.

"That's going to have a huge impact," he said.

It may be felt most at El Dorado State Park, where about 16 to 20 inmates work each day, according to park manager Doug Lauxman. Inmates there do jobs such as mowing, weeding, welding and repairing equipment. They are paid $1.05 a day.

Lauxman said that he didn't know how much the park saves by using inmate labor.

"We're losing 40,000 man hours a year."

Earlier this year, the Department of Corrections announced it was closing correctional facilities in Toronto, Osawatomie and Stockton. Inmates from those facilities have produced tens of thousands of work hours each year for some state parks and nonprofit organizations.

The loss of the inmate labor also has the city of El Dorado and Butler County officials concerned.

At least four inmates work daily for each government agency, performing duties such as landfill maintenance and landscaping.

"That's basically how we can keep our parks up is because of the labor from the prison system," said El Dorado Mayor Tom McKibban.

McKibban figured that if the city had to hire workers to replace the four inmate workers, it would cost about $125,000 annually.