Politics & Government

El Dorado prison to resume normal shifts after Kelly lifts emergency declaration

Governor addresses prison staff after state declares emergency at El Dorado prison

(FILE VIDEO -- February 2019) Gov. Laura Kelly, with acting Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz, addressed the staff at the El Dorado Correctional Facility after declaring an emergency at the prison due to staff shortages and overpopulation.
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(FILE VIDEO -- February 2019) Gov. Laura Kelly, with acting Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz, addressed the staff at the El Dorado Correctional Facility after declaring an emergency at the prison due to staff shortages and overpopulation.

Kansas corrections officers at the state prison in El Dorado will soon return to eight-hour shifts after a months-long emergency declaration meant mandatory overtime and 12-hour days.

Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday the state of emergency at El Dorado Correctional Facility would end in early October. She placed the prison on the heightened status in February. The decision gave officials the power to order longer shifts to deal with a chronic and severe staff shortage.

The announcement comes after lawmakers boosted pay for officers at the prison. The emergency declaration had reflected a crisis within the prison system, which has been dealing with staff shortages for years as the number of inmates continues to rise.

“There are many people to thank for their support during this emergency, first and foremost our employees,” Kelly said in a statement. “Under very difficult circumstances, our employees demonstrated their commitment to each other and to the safety of their fellow Kansans.”

When Kelly declared an emergency, El Dorado prison had 84 vacant officer positions, for a vacancy rate of more than 25 percent. The governor’s office said the number of vacancies stood at 50 as of July 29.

The prison filled 25 officer positions at the prison between June 17 and July 29. Statewide, the number of vacancies dropped from 342 to 252 during that same time.

Kelly’s office attributed the reduction to a funding increase that allowed the Kansas Department of Corrections to raise the starting wage to $18.26 an hour from $15.75.

Sarah LaFrenz, president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a union that represents many officers in the prison system, hailed the decision and KDOC leadership.

“We are encouraged to see this administration and Acting Secretary Jeff Zmuda take seriously the issues at EDCF and our other Kansas Correctional facilities, as well as the safety of our Kansas workers,” LaFrenz said in a statement issued by Kelly’s office. “We look forward to working collaboratively with KDOC both currently and in the future.”

Kansas has been dealing with a prison system under stress for years, including a series of riots and disturbances in 2017. Officer pay wasn’t competitive with county jails and federal prisons, officials said. And prison populations continued to climb.

El Dorado is operating at maximum capacity. An August 2 population report showed 1,956 inmates at the prison with a capacity of 1,955.

Across all prisons, Kansas is housing 10,005 inmates with a capacity of 9,920. Corrections officials have said it is likely the state will eventually pay a private company to house inmates out of state in order to deal with the overcrowding.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.
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