Lawmakers discuss El Dorado corrections emergency

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Kansas Department of Corrections says they are in a state of emergency. The interim secretary said staffing shortages are severe, putting inmates and workers at risk.

FILE - This March 23, 2011, photo shows the El Dorado Correctional Facility near El Dorado, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

‘It’s just wearing our staff out,” said Kansas Department of Corrections Interim Secretary Roger Werholtz.

He made the emergency declaration for the El Dorado Correctional Facility. Their staff of 360 people is currently 95 short. He stressed the situation is so critical, they are having problems managing the facility.

“This emergency declaration will not provide immediate relief, but I hope it will help us get some more bodies in the door,” Werholtz said.

El Dorado has seen riots the past two years, including one last July that caused around $177,000 dollars in damage. Currently, Werholtz is taking staffers from other facilities to help. He is also looking for space at county jails to ease a space crunch. As of Monday, El Dorado houses 2,029 inmates. 74 more than its capacity.

Governor Laura Kelly (D-Kansas) says she’s meeting with leadership to find a solution.

“Including staffing issues, including sentencing guidelines and facilities,” Kelly said.

The Secretary is also requiring his staff to work longer hours, but House leadership says that may not be the best plan.

“I’m not sure that is always the best solution but we’re open to seeing what the solutions are. There’s some funding issues we’re addressing as well as bed space,” said Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe).

“We need a long term solution. We need to work this through the process and come up with a deliberative solution that’s going to make sure we don’t find ourselves in this position again,” added Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch.

The state did end the year with $900-million in reserves, but with demands like meeting a mandate on school funding, lawmakers are feeling the pinch.

"There’s only so much money that can be spread around. That is our job to prioritize the entire state’s budget. Not just the part that’s constitutionally protected,” Ryckman added.

Secretary Werholtz also said low pay continues to be an issue.

Corrections officers currently start at $15.75 an hour, but similar jobs around the state could bring in around $20 an hour.