Officer speaks out on El Dorado prison crisis

Local

KSN talked with one El Dorado Corretional Facility officer this week who says it’s only a matter of time before an officer is seriously hurt or worse.

“If things keep going the way they are that will be the case,” said Grant. “I hope it’s not me.”

Grant is not his real name because he wanted to be anonymous. He says staffing is dangerously low.

The prison is still 89 officers short on being fully staffed.

“We found some shanks up to 11 inches or more wide. It would go right through a person,” said Grant.

He says the staffing shortage means they don’t always find contraband or drugs.

“K-2, marijuana, white crystal powder that I’m not sure what it is. Hooch that’s homemade alcohol. A lot of hooch in the prison,” said Grant. “I would say it’s easier to get drugs in the prison than on the outside.”

Grant says officers are trying, but there are just not enough officers.

KSN reached out to the Department of Corrections and we talked with the Secretary Roger Werholtz.

“From what you have told me the officer is saying,” said Secretary Werholtz, “I don’t want to minimize what you are being told, but I would have to agree with it sounds like most everything you were told.”

Werholtz says he met with lawmakers, and they are asking for more money to raise pay and hire more officers.

“We put together a proposed pay package to the governor’s office. And what we hope it will do is make us more competitive in a very competitive labor market right now,” said Secretary Werholtz. “The governor convened committees of the Senate and House, and we had an opportunity to discuss the problems in the department especially at El Dorado.”

Werholtz says he is also concerned about the safety of the officers and the inmates because of the staffing shortage.

Werholtz says they have declared an emergency at El Dorado Correctional Facility. That means some officers are required to work mandatory 12-hour shifts.

Grant says that’s not always safe, especially since mandatory overtime can mean four days in a row at 12-hour or even 16-hour shifts.

“Right now, it’s dangerous because I know they overtimed everybody last night,” said Grant. “Because there wasn’t enough people to work on first shift. That means they don’t let you leave.”

While the Secretary of Corrections says they are scrambling to find staff, he says a small pay increase has not attracted new officers. When the department first declared an emergency, El Dorado was 88 officers short. Today, that number stands at 89.

Grant says mandatory overtime and starting pay at less than $16 an hour is not incentive to bring in new officers.

He says they are making some concessions to inmates to help keep the prison under control.

“We’re just trying to appease them to get them to not start anything except every time we give them something and ask, if we give you this will you not do that? They say yes. And it’s not long after they are asking for something else.”

Grant says D cell block remains on lockdown as it has been for weeks now. He says it’s because of threats to officers.

He remains hopeful pay increases will come soon, along with new officers.

‘Somebody has to do this job,” says Grant. “I mean we all need a job.”

Werholtz says they are working on it.

“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. “But the legislative process is not a rapid one, and I know they continue to work on that proposal. They are also working with us on other pieces of the puzzle and that includes capacity expansion options. We gave them options for adding beds in our system and talked about leasing beds outside the system. We have too many inmates in too little space and not enough staff to adequately supervise them.”

KSN asked Grant what he would tell Kansas Governor Laura Kelly if he could sit down for a 15 minute chat.

“Better benefits in order to retain staffing out here. Because benefits, if you are family person with kids you have a $10-12,000 deductible? And I haven’t had a cost of living raise since I’ve been there. I would tell her it’s not safe. You can’t work people that many hours and expect them to drive back and forth home get cleaned up, eat, and expect them to come back after four or five hours of sleep.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

3 Day Forecast

KSN Storm Track 3 Weather