Kansas sees spikes in inmate transfers among state prisons

September 24, 2017 GMT

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials are debating how much an increase in moving inmates among prisons has fueled unrest in recent months that included a riot at one facility.

Kansas has seen several spikes this year in the number of inmates transferred among prisons, data from the state Department of Corrections shows.

The department said the short-term increases in inmate transfers are tied in some cases to staffing problems at its prisons in Lansing and El Dorado. But it also attributed them to the relocation of a vocational program earlier this year and an ongoing effort to even out the number of maximum-security inmates in the three largest prisons, partly to thwart gang activity.


The figures show the average monthly transfers into and out of the prisons in Lansing, El Dorado, Hutchinson and Norton all are higher this year than last year. In El Dorado, both the average monthly inbound and outbound transfers more than doubled.

The department released the figures to The Associated Press following an open records request. Spokesman Samir Arif said transfers of inmates are a “frequent occurrence” in prison systems and this year’s spikes are tied to specific causes.

“The overriding concept is for the right inmate to be in the right bed,” Arif said Friday. “Every move happens for a reason — a distinct, identifiable reason.”

The riot earlier this month at the low-security Norton Correctional Facility in northwest Kansas occurred after an increase in monthly transfers into the prison from June through August. Inmates set small fires and smashed windows.

The department confirmed three disturbances in May and June at the El Dorado prison, an inmate assault on a staff member at its Hutchinson prison earlier this month and a lock-down following a dining-room fight last week in Lansing.

Legislators worried that staffing shortages tied to low pay contributed to El Dorado’s unrest and pressured Republican Gov. Sam Brownback into increasing corrections officer’s pay. Still, as of early September, nearly a quarter of the prison’s uniformed-officer positions were vacant, or 87 of 360, and Secretary Joe Norwood told the union representing officers this week that they would continue to be scheduled for 12-hour shifts at least into December.

At least a few legislators worry that the department has been too aggressive in moving inmates and double-bunking additional housing in Norton and El Dorado.


Norwood attributed some of the El Dorado unrest — but not the Norton riot — to inmate unhappiness with being moved. Brownback told The Wichita Eagle earlier this month the state was likely to face “real disruptions” as it moved inmates as part of a plan to build a new prison in Lansing to replace the one there with buildings dating to the 1860s.

“This is all too much too fast,” said state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “This is just a textbook case of mismanagement.”

Department figures show the El Dorado prison averaged 44 transfers into the prison a month and 49 out last year, compared to 113 transfers in a month and 117 out this year. The biggest spikes: More than 180 inbound transfers in February and March; 193 transfers out in July.

Arif said the prison saw higher numbers of inbound inmates from March through May because a work program moved to El Dorado from Lansing. Later, staffing concerns forced the prison to shut down a cellhouse in El Dorado, he said.

While Norton’s average monthly outbound transfers of 35 are similar to last year’s 33, the average monthly inbound number jumped to 88 from 67 last year. More than 110 transferred into the prison in June, July and August.

Both the Lansing and Hutchinson prisons saw inbound transfers spike at more than 200 in February as the department evened out maximum-security populations. Lansing saw a jump in outbound transfers in May as a medium-security cellhouse closed, also because of staffing issues, Arif said.

Republican state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, whose district includes the Lansing prison, said he’s confident the department is managing inmates well.

“The problem is we have antiquated facilities, and pay has been far too low for far too long,” Fitzgerald said.


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