El Dorado Correctional remains a prison in crisis.
Warden Sam Cline invited KSN to talk to him, and anyone we encountered while touring the grounds.
It was a bright, sunny spring day Tuesday at the El Dorado prison. The yard in cell block A was empty.
Inmates remain in lockdown. Warden Smith says it’s not really lockdown.
“They are in their cell block, in their cells for longer periods of time. They only come out to shower, to get meals and return to their cells to eat and to come out for brief periods of time to use the kiosk to communicate with family members,” said Warden Cline. “It’s limited movement that amounts to about 21 hours a day in their cells.”
Warden Cline said corrections officers have received threats and some in cell block A have intimidated staff members. At the same time, El Dorado Correctonal remains 89 officers short of being fully staffed.
“Today those working 12 hour days are routinely held over to 16 hour days, and quite honestly, very many of our staff are just exhausted,” said Warden Cline. “Today, we are at 89 positions open, and that’s a very desperate issue.”
The warden says he has been working in the Kansas prison system for decades. Cline has been a warden at Hutchinson, and he has worked at Lansing and other prisons.
Warden Cline says discipline is key to helping keep order in a prison so short on staff.
That includes moving cell block D inmates into cell block A, where those in A remain on limited movement to 21 hours a day inside their cells.
“We put our more difficult offenders in a situation where we could better control their behavior,” said Cline. “The threatening and intimidation has decreased to our staff.”
Some inmates in cell block A told KSN they wanted better chances at opportunites for education. Others say they want the privilege of a job so they can send some money home to family members.
Warden Cline says privileges will have to be earned, and it’s not an easy situation to keep a whole cell block on so-called limited movement.
“It’s not a one size fits all situation,” said Cline. “We try to look at individuals and see if they are earning more opportunities. If they do, that’s the goal.”
Cline allowed KSN to talk to any employees of the facility as we walked and talked on Tuesday.
Corrections officer Jessie Hardamon is on the line in cell block A and says it’s always a challenge.
“It’s a stressful environment,” said Hardamon. “Sometimes they don’t want to lock down. But you’ve got to do your job.”
Other officers we saw while walking outside the cell houses say, while they have not been hurt on the job, the possibility is always on their mind.
Corrections officer Tracy Crusinbery says she has been on the job a couple of years and says the lack of staff is wearing on everyone.
“It wasn’t this bad when I started, and it progressively gets worse,” said Crusinbery. “So, yes, I am concerned about that, for my safety, for my co-workers safety. I worry about the safety of the inmates, too.”
Warden Cline nodded his head and slapped Crusinbery on the shoulder, telling her to keep up the good work.
The tour continues out in the main yard of the prison where a few inmates mill around with dogs by their sides. The dogs are part of a program to help train animals and give the inmates a sense of purpose.
“We have a lot of programs to give the inmates a guide, a sense that they should be doing something productive,” said Cline. “We can show you the dog program and talk to people if you’d like.”
We agreed to talk at another time about the success of adopting well-trained dogs from the prison.
As the tour continues, the warden pointed out a law library and a general library.
But it’s not the facility or the programs that matter most. The warden says it is the people that can make a difference. Both officers and inmates.
And the warden adds it is hard to make a difference in the lives of inmates when the stress level is high.
“Typically, this is an environment that is very human in nature and for one individual (officers) to be exhausted trying to be able to keep up with someone (inmate) that has had a good nights rest, I mean… it’s just hard,” said Cline.
The warden says he has put military cots into a male and female makeshift set of rooms in the administration part of the offices. He wants to give employees a chance to catch a nap if they need one before they drive home.
While they make adjustments to make up for short staff, the warden says low pay is not attracting more officers.
“My job is to do the best I can with the resources I have,” said Cline.
Cline says he is watching and waiting to see if lawmakers will add more money to attract more officers to both hire into the system and stay on the job.