Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Editorial: Corrections Officers Deserve More Pay

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Editorial: Corrections Officers Deserve More Pay

Article excerpt

As of Aug. 1, El Dorado Correctional Facility had 93 unfilled positions -- a major staff shortage that has forced employees (including corrections officers) to work 12-hour shifts. According to a grievance filed by the Kansas Organization of State Employees, some corrections officers have been working 16-hour shifts -- a requirement that isn't going to improve the prison's annual turnover rate of 46 percent. The staffing crisis prompted the Kansas Department of Corrections to declare an official emergency at the beginning of the month.

When prisons are understaffed, it can be exhausting and dangerous for the guards. Over the past few months, there has been significant unrest at El Dorado, including four serious uprisings, two stabbings and a dramatic spike in disciplinary cases. Last year, the prison averaged 207 cases per month -- a number that surged to 362 in the first half of 2017. Although the connection between these incidents and understaffing is unclear, it's difficult to imagine that one doesn't affect the other. Robert Choromanski is the executive director of KOSE, and he argues that inmates will "utilize the weak points and jump on it" when staffing levels are down.

This problem has been exacerbated by transfers of prisoners from other facilities to El Dorado.

The prison can house 1,500 inmates without double bunking, but the population was almost 1,900 as of June 29. In a statement issued on Wednesday, Senate President Susan Wagle said prisoner transfers, understaffing and overcrowding were all reasons for the recent unrest at El Dorado. And while she argued that the uprisings couldn't be "blamed solely on underpayment of salaries and a shortage of workers," she called upon Gov. Sam Brownback to immediately increase pay for corrections officers in Kansas.

Wagle is joined by House Democrats who are also in favor of a pay increase. …

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