As the El Dorado Correctional Facility remains in crisis mode officers remain working under mandatory overtime rules.
The facility is 89 correctional officers short of being fully staffed. Some lawmakers say they are working to fix the problem that includes starting pay at $15.75 an hour.
“These officer are chronically underpaid even with the increases that were provided under the prior administration. They can make more money driving a truck,” said Representative John Carmichael, D-Wichita.
Carmichael is on the Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee. He says lawmakers have started a Kansas criminal justice reform commission to look at long-term solutions.
“These issues are not only at El Dorado but it’s present at other facilities,” said Russell Jennings, R-Lakin. “Certainly the worst case scenario (is) at El Dorado. We will need to explore enhancing the salary for corrections officers and benefits so that we can attract qualified staff to do the job.”
Jennings is also on the Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee. He says he is 90 percent certain lawmakers will get more money into the the system to hopefully attract and hire more corrections officers.
Independent Senator John Doll of Garden City says he will work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to find the money.
“We have big issues,” said Doll. “I think government should be limited. But one role is protection. Protection. So our prisons are in dire need of reform, more workers. It’s just unsafe for the workers, it’s unsafe for the prisoners.”
Grant hopes lawmakers come through soon. He points out that if the pay rate moves up to be competitive with other jobs, it will still take time to get officers into the system.
“Has anyone died yet? Not yet,” said Grant. “I think that’s what they’re waiting for before they take action. What needs to happen? It’s difficult to say because nobody is going to come in there and take a job where they’re going to get mandatory 12 to 16 hours a day, four days in a row.”
Representative Carmichael says they have to get more officers in the door, quickly. But, he adds, it will take time.
“Immediately, how do we fix that? We cross our fingers and we pray, quite frankly, because I think we are in that catastrophic of a situation.”