KS gov: Inmates with 'viable' plan have potential for early release amid COVID-19 pandemic

Prison bars
Posted at 5:22 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 18:22:36-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Corrections officers with the Kansas Department of Corrections are taking precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic to protect inmates, according to Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.

In an interview with 41 Action News anchor Taylor Hemness, Kelly acknowledged the concerns of inmates’ family members, and said the state is looking for ways to limit the virus’ spread within KDOC facilities.

An outbreak at the Lansing Correctional Facility is raising particular concern, though the governor said they’ve found ways to mitigate that cluster.

“We had a brand new facility that we had not moved into yet, so we've been able to take folks with positive testing, or those with with symptoms or exposure, and been able to isolate and quarantine them over in the new facility,” Kelly said.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said Wednesday there are 24 staff members and 20 inmates who have tested positive for coronavirus at Lansing Correctional.

More than 100 inmates from the Wichita Work Release Facility are also quarantining at Lansing after one of its residents tested positive for COVID-19.

Kelly said corrections officers are implementing new procedures to help keep inmates safe and limit potential exposure.

One example she gave is that prisoners are now moving about the facility in “cohorts” rather than mingling as they did before.

Kelly said moving them with the same group of people from place to place limits the number of people with whom they come into contact and “limits the exposure from a broad level to a much more narrow level.”

The governor said her office and KDOC are working with the state legislature on the potential early release of some inmates.

Before the pandemic, KDOC had compiled a list of inmates nearing their release date.

“This was not only obligated by the virus. We’ve been looking at this for a while, just because it’s clear to us that there are people who have been incarcerated in our state prisons who probably should not have been in the first place,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the virus is putting the process on the fast track.

Inmates with “viable release plans,” which means they have a place to go or a job, are more likely to be considered for release.

Kelly said releasing prisoners without a plan in place is “a recipe for disaster both for them individually and for the community.”

The governor refrained from commenting on the state’s prison health care provider, but did say “there may be some changes that come along.”