TOPEKA, Kan. — The Latest on problems at Kansas prisons (all times local):
Three companies are seeking a contract with Kansas to build a new prison in Lansing to replace the state’s oldest and largest lockup there.
Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood told lawmakers Thursday of the three bidders. But he declined to name them, saying staff advised him he couldn’t for now.
But the Department of Administration disclosed their names to The Associated Press last month upon its request.
The bidders include Nashville-based CoreCivic and GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida. Both run private prisons.
The third is Lansing Correctional Partners. Its headquarters was listed as Memphis but online searches found no website or business filings for Kansas or Tennessee.
Corrections officials contend a new prison will be safer and more efficient. Parts of the existing one date to the 1860s.
Kansas Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood says the former warden of the state’s maximum-security prison will oversee training for corrections officers statewide.
Norwood told legislators Thursday that former Warden James Heimgartner is now working for the Department of Corrections central office.
Heimgartner left the warden’s post on July 27 amid increasing scrutiny of inmate unrest and staffing shortages at the El Dorado prison. The department confirmed three disturbances in May and June and a pair of inmate-on-inmate fights on July 28.
Norwood said Heimgartner also will help the department find efficiencies in its operations. He said Heimgartner and the department had talked about changing his duties for some time.
But Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka called the timing of the job change odd.
Kansas Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood says recent disturbances at the state’s maximum-security prison in El Dorado are not tied to short staffing there.
Norwood told a legislative committee Thursday that all critical posts were staffed when the three disturbances occurred in May and June. The unrest involved inmates who refused to return to their cells.
Norwood said the disturbances resulted in no significant injuries to staff and inmates and minimal property damage.
But the department also reported two separate inmate-on-inmate fights that resulted in one inmate from each going to an outside hospital with stab wounds. Norwood said both incidents were gang-related.
The corrections secretary said staffing shortages at El Dorado have not made it more susceptible to disturbances. It had 84 vacancies in uniformed-officer positions as of Tuesday.
Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood says low pay for uniformed corrections officers is causing high turnover rates at state prisons, especially at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Norwood disclosed Thursday that the El Dorado prison has the highest annual turnover rate for any of the state’s eight prisons at 46 percent. The figure for the entire system is 33 percent.
He said during a Legislative Budget Committee meeting that 21 employees left the El Dorado prison in July. Five retired and nine took new jobs. The others moved out-of-state, had medical issues or were fired.
El Dorado has seen several inmate disturbances over the past few months. But Norwood said pay is the big issue because many jobs pay better than the $13.95 an hour starting pay for corrections officers.
Kansas Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood has apologized publicly to a legislator who accused his department of not providing complete information about problems in state prisons.
Norwood told reporters Thursday that the Department of Corrections strives to be transparent but will work on improving its communications with legislators.
Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka said during a legislative committee meeting on budget issues that she does not feel the department has kept lawmakers fully informed of disturbances at the state’s maximum-security prison in El Dorado. It has had several disturbances since May, and two came to light after The Associated Press interviewed employees.
Kelly told Norwood that legislators are the department’s partners and need to have information to help it deal with its problems.
Figures from the Kansas Department of Corrections show that state prisons saw an increase in staff vacancies at the end of July.
Figures released Thursday showed 268 vacancies in positions for uniformed officers as of Tuesday. The department reported 236 vacancies on July 24.
The figures also showed that the El Dorado Correctional Facility saw its number of vacancies among uniformed officers jump from to 84 as of Tuesday from 73 on July 24. The prison has been the site of several inmate disturbances in recent months.
The vacancy rate at the El Dorado prison among uniformed officers was 23 percent as of Tuesday.
Prisons in Ellsworth, Hutchinson and Lansing also saw increases in uniformed-officer vacancies.
The department released the data to The Associated Press in response to a request.