Warden accused of insensitivity

TOPEKA — The warden of Kansas' prison for women is accused of making racially insensitive comments and creating a work environment with hardships for female and minority employees, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

But the state's top corrections official said Tuesday that he has full confidence in warden Richard Koerner's management of the Topeka Correctional Facility.

"I haven't seen any indication of any evidence that would support a conclusion that there's a hostile work environment there," Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz told the Associated Press.

The prison's operations already are being reviewed by outside auditors after October reports by the Capital-Journal suggested that up to a third of the prison's 250 employees have engaged in an illegal black market, including exchanging sex with female inmates for drugs. Werholtz said the allegation is unfounded.

In its latest report, the newspaper cited claims that Koerner made racially insensitive remarks, including a lynching reference to two black women. The newspaper conducted interviews with current and former prison staff and examined thousands of pages of records.

Kent Dunn, a former officer at the prison, is challenging his dismissal in May 2008 for being too friendly with inmates. Dunn, who is black, argued that Koerner, who is white, has shown racial bias.

Werholtz said the department is handling any response to such allegations. Corrections officials noted that Dunn's firing was upheld in January by the state Civil Service Board. Dunn appealed in a lawsuit in state district court.

During the Civil Service Board hearing on Dunn's case, Mary Carr, a Topeka Correctional Facility officer, testified that Koerner made the lynching reference in April 2000 while criticizing her and another officer, Sandra Hutton, over how they were reorganizing their office. She said Koerner said the officers wouldn't be happy "if I hung you with a new rope."

Carr testified that Koerner later apologized. Koerner testified that he felt bad about making the remark and told a deputy warden, and according to the transcript, said, "I sure, you know, made a faux paux (sic) inadvertently."

The Civil Service Board hearing also dealt with a 1995 incident in which Koerner referred to a black employee, Willie Tabor, as "Willie Boy." Calling a black man "boy" is perceived as disparaging and stems from slavery.

Koerner testified that he'd used the same nickname with a white Department of Corrections employee and meant no offense. But he apologized and stopped using the nickname with Tabor.