Kansas prison system has 325 vacancies for uniformed officers

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KSN News received an all access look inside El Dorado Correctional this week, where some corrections officers say they routinely work up to 16 hours a day.

Figures released this week show the entire prison system in Kansas has 325 vacancies for uniformed officers. El Dorado is down 82 uniformed officers. 

“Our prison system is in a crisis situation. It’s currently under an emergency executive order, and it’s a perfect storm,” said Representative Jim Ward, D-Wichita.

Ward talked to KSN this week about state funding. Ward has long been considered an advocate for more money for schools. But he says El Dorado Correctional Facility and the other prisons need to have more money this year.

“Schools are the number one priority of the state government,” said Representative Ward. “But when we’ve had two summers of riots, it’s time to get something done.”

Representative Ward is talking about two inmate disturbances at different prisons in Kansas where damage was done to the facilities by inmates.

KSN has also talked to Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz about the staffing situation. 

“Hiring more staff will not in and of itself solve the problem because we are way too short on staff and we are working our people way too many hours,” said Secretary Werholtz.

Secretary Werholtz says retention is needed to help balance the newer officers with those who know the system based on experience.

On the tour of El Dorado this week, KSN found officers who said they are taking advantage of the overtime, but at the same time, they also say they work too many hours.

Several officers say more pay would help correct a situation where they are working too many hours in an effort to boost their paychecks.

Starting pay for corrections officers is $15.75 an hour. That’s lower than many other areas of law enforcement, but on par with some of the smaller county sheriff department’s for starting pay.

“I think it is going to take someone getting hurt before anybody listens to us,” said Fred, a corrections officer at El Dorado.

Fred is not his real name and he is one of about a dozen officers who talked to KSN on the condition of anonymity. Some officers don’t want inmates to know they are talking to the media. Other officers don’t want management to know they are talking to media.

Fred says more money is needed to attract more officers and retain officers who have been on the job for more than a couple of years.

“Because when we are on the news, it’s on there for about a week, and then, it goes away,” said Fred. “People forget all about us. We are the red-headed stepchild of law enforcement.”

Representative Michael Capps, R-Wichita, says pay is an issue that needs to be addressed. And he says the solution to more officers is both in recruiting and retention. 

“We need to raise the credentials of our officers, and we need to find money to pay for it,” said Representative Ward.

Capps says longtime officers should be at the top of the list for a salary bump in order to keep them in the system.

“Let’s be real, everyone wants more money. A higher paying salary is just more attractive,” said Representaive Capps. “What we really need to do is look at compensation for our upper tiers of officers that have stayed for years. There is now inequality for pay in the system. Those who start are making very similar money to those that have been there for years. And we are losing some of the senior officers. We are not just losing in recruiting, but we are losing on retaining those with experience. That is decades of institutional knowledge that just vanishes. That is a mistake.”

While recruiting and retention are important, Warden Sam Cline at El Dorado Correctional says he continues to do what he can with the current staff.

“It’s not ideal,” said Warden Cline.

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