Top Kansas lawmakers tackle prison problems

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Overcrowding and lack of workers are big problems that many prisons face in the state. On Tuesday, the State Finance Council met to discuss four major issues in prisons.

Pay raises, outsourcing, prison renovations, and treating inmates with Hepatitis C debated by lawmakers.

Nine million dollars was approved for prison employee raises. But other issues didn’t receive the same support.

“We’re in that band-aid phase; we put band-aids on everything,” said Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning. “We got the pay plan in place, I think that’s the most important to get the salaries up to market and start getting rid of all that overtime,” he said.

The state is also running out of beds to house the roughly 10 thousand prisoners in the state.

“There is no plan in any of these actions that deals with the anticipated growth in the prison population,” said former Secretary of the Department of Corrections Roger Werholtz. “So I don’t know what they think is going to happen with these folks.”

Werholtz proposed moving female prisoners to the underused youth facility in Topeka. That was voted down because much of the three million dollars was not being spent on renovations as lawmakers said it was supposed to be.

“It basically gives us no options for the excess female population that we have right now,” said Werholtz.

To address male overcrowding, Werholtz said the department is looking at moving some inmates to a private prison in Arizona. That idea was met with criticism by top Senate Republicans.

“We think we should house any prisoners in any rural jail that can take them, or any urban jail that can take them and ship them out of state as the last resort,” said Denning.

Part of the money for that plan was approved by the council with Senator Denning and Senate President Susan Wagle voting against it.

Later in the meeting 4.5 million dollars was approved to treat 400 inmates with Hepatitis C.

Also in the meeting, Senate Republicans warned Governor Kelly that her current appointment for Correction’s Secretary, Jefferey Zmuda, would currently have a hard time passing the confirmation process.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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