State corrections chief says pay fuels turnover

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FILE – In this Friday, July 28, 2017 file photo, Kansas Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood answers questions about recent disturbances at a maximum-security state prison in Topeka.  (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA — Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood says low pay for uniformed corrections officers is causing high turnover rates at state prisons, especially at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Norwood disclosed Thursday that the El Dorado prison has the highest annual turnover rate for any of the state’s eight prisons at 46 percent. The figure for the entire system is 33 percent.

He said during a Legislative Budget Committee meeting that 21 employees left the El Dorado prison in July. Five retired and nine took new jobs. The others moved out-of-state, had medical issues or were fired.

El Dorado has seen several inmate disturbances over the past few months. But Norwood said pay is the big issue because many jobs pay better than the $13.95 an hour starting pay for corrections officers.

Norwood apologized publicly to a legislator who accused his department of not providing complete information about problems in state prisons.

Norwood told reporters Thursday that the Department of Corrections strives to be transparent but will work on improving its communications with legislators.

Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka said during a legislative committee meeting on budget issues that she does not feel the department has kept lawmakers fully informed of disturbances at the state’s maximum-security prison in El Dorado. It has had several disturbances since May, and two came to light after The Associated Press interviewed employees.

Kelly told Norwood that legislators are the department’s partners and need to have information to help it deal with its problems.

Figures from the Kansas Department of Corrections show that state prisons saw an increase in staff vacancies at the end of July.

Figures released Thursday showed 268 vacancies in positions for uniformed officers as of Tuesday. The department reported 236 vacancies on July 24.

The figures also showed that the El Dorado Correctional Facility saw its number of vacancies among uniformed officers jump from to 84 as of Tuesday from 73 on July 24. The prison has been the site of several inmate disturbances in recent months.

The vacancy rate at the El Dorado prison among uniformed officers was 23 percent as of Tuesday.

Prisons in Ellsworth, Hutchinson and Lansing also saw increases in uniformed-officer vacancies.

The department released the data to The Associated Press in response to a request.

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