Inmates spend more time in cells because of staff shortages

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Staffing shortages have gotten so bad at a Kansas prison that has been the scene of past unrest that inmates are spending more time confined to their cells, officials say.

Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson Carol Pitts said in an email that staffing is a problem across the prison system but that the “greatest challenge” is at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

The result is more cell time and less access to programs and activities at the maximum security prison in Butler County, she said.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the prison population has shrunk during the pandemic, and the agency has closed some housing units to reduce staff needs. The agency also has increased recruiting efforts and started a program where employees can earn extra paid leave through successful job referrals.

Corrections Department Secretary Jeff Zmuda said in a Sept. 15 memo to inmates and their families that staffing shortages “top the list of challenges we face.”

The El Dorado facility faced staffing problems before the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, Gov. Laura Kelly declared an emergency at the prison due to staffing shortages inside the facility, which had multiple inmate disturbances over the previous two years. The state declared an emergency at the prison in 2017, also because of staffing shortages.