Gov. Laura Kelly seeking more money for prisons

Gov. Laura Kelly
Posted at 11:05 AM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 18:05:14-04

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is seeking $35 million to improve corrections officer salaries and inmate health care and to transfer inmates out of overcrowded state prisons.

Kelly on Tuesday submitted an amended budget proposal for the spending year that begins July 1 for lawmakers to consider as they returned Wednesday to the Statehouse for a brief wrap-up session.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports Kelly is asking the Legislature to allocate $16.4 million to purchase contract bed space for male inmates to free state correctional officers for redeployment in the crowded prison system.

"Corrections officers and staff have stood strong on the front lines in this crisis, but we must give them the support and compensation they deserve," Kelly said. "Help is on the way."

Kansas declared an emergency in February at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, the state's most crowded maximum-security prison, over what officials called "serious staffing shortages" inside a lockup that's had multiple inmate disturbances over the past two years.

But Kelly acknowledged at the time that the most immediate effect of that declaration — longer hours for workers — wasn't a real solution to staffing at the prison. And the corrections chief who declared the emergency said the extended hours for staff probably couldn't be sustained for more than a few months.

Kelly also wants $3 million to move 120 women at Topeka Correctional Facility to a state juvenile corrections complex and $4.5 million to broaden medical treatment to inmates with Hepatitis C. The Kansas Department of Corrections budgeted $1.5 million for treatment, and the Legislature was considering a bill doubling the amount. Kelly said several states have been sued over the last several years for not providing Hepatitis C treatment.

Kelly's budget amendment calls for corrections department pay raises of 5% to 13%.

The Department of Corrections' total budget is roughly $400 million and Kelly's proposal would increase it by more than 8%.