Families worried after loved ones transferred from Wichita work release facility to Lansing prison

Posted at 5:43 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 20:04:45-04

LANSING, Kan. — Dana Hogan's son Zach only has six months to go before being released from prison.

"We've actually refinished our basement, getting ready for him because he wants to come and just be part of the family," said Hogan at their Olathe home.

Zach has been with 112 other inmates at the Wichita Work Release Facility since last summer, where he had his own room, a job, a cell phone, and could go to Walmart once a week.

On Sunday, the family learned Zach and the other inmates were being transferred to Lansing Correctional Facility after one Wichita inmate tested positive for COVID-19.

However, 17 inmates and 20 staff members at Lansing have tested positive. Last Thursday, inmates trashed a cell block over coronavirus health and safety concerns.

"He called four times within just 10 minutes, just panicking, and you could hear the panic in the background, which is really unusual because when I talk to Zach that facility is really chill," Hogan said.

Assurance from the state that the transferred inmates are being taken care of does little to calm the fears.

"Guidance was given by KDHE and enacted by the Kansas Department of Corrections, and this included a lockdown of all staff and 113 inmates. The positive resident was moved to the COVID-19 unit," said Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The inmates are in quarantine in their own unit at the newly-reconstructed Lansing prison building, away from the general population. KDOC said it will have better access to medical care there.

The inmates do not have their own cells.

KDOC said the transferred inmates and those at Lansing already have cloth masks and should be wearing them.

"Everyone in all of our KDOC facilities should have their cloth masks by the end of the week," a KDOC spokesperson said.

Still, the families wonder how much social distancing inmates will be able to do.

"My problem is the means of transporting them," said Regina Sims, another concerned mother. "They transported them on a bus with multiple people. They aren't six feet away, they didn't abide by social distancing. If anybody on there had it and coughed, there's a chance for multiple people being exposed."

Sims said she also received a frantic phone call from her son, who has an infection that needs attention.

"I don't know why they wouldn't just let him come home," Sims said.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is looking into releasing non-violent offenders early to address overcrowding, depending on if they have support when they get out.

Kelly has not set a date for potential early release yet.

Hogan and Sims said their sons would qualify.

The Wichita Work Release Facility requires inmates to budget their money, pay room and board, and put money into a savings account.

"We, as a family, would be absolutely devastated if he got sick while he's in there," Hogan said. "So close to release and then get sick, and then it could even turn into a death sentence."

Hogan and Sims had not heard from their sons by Monday afternoon.