Crime & Courts

Prison sex report results in reassignment for women's prison warden

TOPEKA — Kansas' corrections secretary reassigned the warden of the state women's prison Friday, hours after the release of a report recommending tighter procedures following allegations of widespread illegal sex between inmates and staff.

Gov. Mark Parkinson and state corrections officials saw the National Institute of Corrections report as a generally favorable review of policies, training and management at the Topeka Correctional Facility.

The report included 29 recommendations for improving the prison's operations, including clearer rules governing staff-inmate interaction and a review of its grievance process for inmates.

Less than two hours after Parkinson's office released the report, Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz announced that Warden Richard Koerner was leaving for a job in the Department of Corrections' central office. Werholtz said Koerner asked to be reassigned after concluding that continuing as warden would create "an unnecessary and ongoing distraction" for prison staff.

Meanwhile, legislative auditors were preparing their own report on the prison's operations. Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt said the institute's report will help the department but doesn't answer all important questions.

"Part of the important information we need to have is how extensive the problem is," said Schmidt, who serves on the committee overseeing the auditors' work.

Werholtz, who said last month that he had full confidence in Koerner, said Friday that he respected Koerner's work in 14 years as warden. A visitors' log at the department's central office in Topeka showed that the two men met for an hour and 20 minutes Friday morning.

"They were talking about the report and a number of topics," department spokesman Bill Miskell said, declining to be more specific.

Parkinson sought an outside review of the prison's policies and operations in October after the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that inmates and staff said as many as one-third of the 250 employees have been involved with a black market that included exchanging drugs for sex with female inmates. The prison held 564 inmates this week.

The newspaper said 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 also focused on 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. He was sentenced to two years' probation. The inmate became pregnant and had an abortion.

Werholtz has said only 2 percent of the department's 3,000 employees have engaged in such misconduct.

The National Institute of Corrections is an agency within the U.S. Justice Department.

The institute's report did not deal directly with the extent of sexual misconduct at the prison or the reported presence of a sex-for-drugs black market. But it said Department of Corrections policies "are generally consistent with national standards."

And, the report said, "there is no evidence to suggest that either investigators or the administration have ignored allegations brought forward to them."

Parkinson said in a statement: "This reaffirms what I have always believed — the men and women who work in Kansas' correctional system are dedicated public servants."

The report also said inmates and staff identified "inconsistency" in the prison's practices as a barrier to inmates reporting abuse and that the prison should "clearly define for staff behaviors that would constitute undue familiarity."

Also, it said, the grievance process should be reviewed so that inmates have more confidence in it and won't fear retaliation.