TOPEKA — Gov. Mark Parkinson moved Wednesday to have an outside review of Kansas' prison system following allegations of widespread illegal sex among staff and inmates at the state's prison for women.
Parkinson sent a letter to the deputy director of the National Institute of Corrections, asking for help in finding an independent management expert with a national reputation to conduct a review. The institute, in Washington, is an agency within the U.S. Justice Department.
The governor said he wants to examine the Kansas Department of Corrections' policies and staff training on sexual misconduct and supervision of inmates of one gender by staff of the opposite gender. Parkinson said he expects a review to be completed before Kansas legislators reconvene in January.
"No one in our corrections system — whether it's an employee or inmate — should ever be exploited or abused," Parkinson said in a statement. "We must ensure that the policies we have in place are working and that when people do not follow these policies, they are appropriately dealt with."
Earlier this month, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that inmates and staff at the Topeka Correctional Facility said as many as one-third of its 250 employees have been involved with an illegal black market that includes exchanging drugs for sex with female inmates. The prison has about 550 inmates.
The newspaper reported that its own investigation showed the prison had a workplace culture "that leaves the door open to misconduct," basing its conclusion on interviews and hundreds of pages of documents.
It focused on the case of a former vocational instructor at the prison who pleaded guilty last year to trafficking in contraband and having sex with a female inmate, which is illegal for a prison employee under Kansas law. He was sentenced to two years probation. The inmate became pregnant and had an abortion.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz has said only 2 percent of the department's 3,000 employees have engaged in such misconduct. But he welcomed Parkinson's move Wednesday.
"I think it's important at this point that there be an independent set of eyes that takes a look at the policies and procedures that we have in place and takes a look at our operations," Werholtz said.
Parkinson spokeswoman Beth Martino said Parkinson's desire for an outside review doesn't signal any loss of confidence in Werholtz. She said the two are working together to make sure the department's efforts to prevent misconduct are adequate.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said an outside review is welcome but said it needs to examine the department's oversight of its staff, not just its policies and training.
"I can't imagine that there aren't policies that are in place, and it's just a matter of whether those policies are being enforced and followed," O'Neal said. "Certainly, the recent stories raise a lot of concerns in the public's eye about what's going on."