Prisons and jails may compete for space

Local

Sedgwick County and state prisons at or near capacity

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Lawmakers looked into more money at the end of the legislative session to house prison inmates at jails in an effort to help overcrowding.

“And a reduction in population would absolutely make a better world for us,” said Warden Sam Cline, El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Cline says the issue for them is not just being at max capacity. It’s also the need for more uniformed officers. The starting pay for prison officers is now at $18.26 an hour. But the state corrections secretary and a finance council will also consider moving inmates to county jails.

And that creates competition.

“When they (state prisons) become overcrowded, they start contracting with other sheriff’s offices to house their inmates,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. “They pay more per day than we do so our inmates are told then you’ve got to go somewhere else and the state inmates move in.”

Sheriff Easter says Sedgwick County sometimes has to send inmates hours away to find space at county jails that can take them. He says the county recently converted a building to become a jail annex, But that is now at capacity as well.

“So it’s a chess game to be real honest with you,” said Sheriff Easter. “And we try to look for the best use of our money and for the citizens of Sedgwick County and taxpayers money. And we try to house as close to Wichita as we can.”

Warden Cline says one way to keep inmates and staff safe would be to reduce the population by housing in county jails. He says the state is offering that option up for consideration.

But the warden says the real key for his facility and other prisons is to get more uniformed officers.

“We still continue to have some attrition. Staff leaving us for better paying jobs in the Wichita area, which I certainly don’t mind,” said Warden Cline. “If somebody wants to go do better for themselves and their family, that’s obviously a good step, but at the same time, it really hurts us when we lose a tenured staff that knows this job well.”

Warden Cline says they are now paying $18.26 an hour for starting pay with the real possibility for overtime if an officer wants the extra hours.

“Give us a look,” said Cline. “There’s opportunity here.”

KSN will have a discussion with the Kansas Corrections interim Secretary on Friday. Look for updates here.

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