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Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The new Medicaid expansion bill, the product of a compromise between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and some Republican leaders, would change how state prisons and county jails fund health care for prisoners.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

A 73-year-old Kansas prison dental instructor accused of sexually abusing inmates goes on trial Monday.

Tomas Co, 73, taught inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison. He faces six felony counts in Shawnee County of unlawful sexual relations for allegedly kissing students, touching them inappropriately and commenting on their appearances. He was removed from his job in 2018.

Nomin Ujiyediin of the Kansas News Service interviewed the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Sherman Smith, who broke the story in 2019 and will be following the trial. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — One solution to Kansas prisons’ woes could come with a $35 million price tag for three new specialty prisons.

The state’s corrections system only treats half of its inmates who struggle with substance abuse. And as some people serve decades-long sentences, the system finds itself home to more elderly prisoners who need special care as they age.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Recent news about jails and prisons in Kansas and Missouri has highlighted horrible conditions for inmates, serious staff shortages and turnover, and lack of programs to ensure offenders reintegrate successfully into society.

Segment 1: Germany's prisons emphasize rehabilitation and resocialization for their inmates.

Germany is doing a lot of things differently than the U.S. when it comes to criminal justice, and they've got a lower inceration rate to show for it. In prisons there, staff are trained in things like psychology and communication, and they're paid just as much as police officers. This is all to promote a reintegration approach, which focuses on returning inmates back into their communities. 

Segment 1: A Missouri man is free after spending 23 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit.

With his newfound freedom, Ricky Kidd said he's excited to be a "responsible citizen and embrace the freedom that should have never been taken away from me in the first place." The Midwest Innocence Project attributes part of the failed system to an overworked public defenders office, and it's costing people like Kidd their lives.

Wikimedia

This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2019, to reflect comments from the Bureau of Prisons.

The federal Bureau of Prisons will provide opioid addiction treatment for a prisoner at the Leavenworth penitentiary, according to a settlement reached Wednesday.

Seg. 1: Technology In Prison | Seg. 2: Unidentified

Aug 19, 2019

Segment 1: A KU research team got a grant to bring technology training to women's prisons.

The population of women in U.S. prisons has risen 834 percent over the past 40 years. More than half of the women now in prison are mothers of children under 18. After interruptions in their educations and resumes, technology training could help them begin planning for re-entry.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA — One of the United States’ largest and oldest private prison companies will house up to 600 Kansas inmates in a facility in Eloy, Arizona.

CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, owns and operates 129 prisons, immigration detention centers and other facilities in more than 20 states, including the Leavenworth Detention Center. Its revenues total more than $1 billion a year.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Kansas will send 360 of its male prisoners to a privately owned and operated prison in Eloy, Arizona, starting this summer.

The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Friday that it had finalized a contract with CoreCivic to move up to 600 people to Saguaro Correctional Center. The prison is about one hour southeast of Phoenix and about a 12-hour drive from the southwestern corner of Kansas.

Kansas News Service / Kansas News Service

One might think the end of her first legislative session as Kansas governor would give Laura Kelly some relief.

"Oh, not much," she said. "We've been extraordinarily busy."

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly

Jul 3, 2019

State's chief executive offers insights on her first session in office and her plans for moving Kansas forward

Governor Kelly explained how she is working with Republicans despite pushback from party leaders on everything from Medicaid to the budget. Kelly acknowledged that state prison conditions are a top priority and that she will entertain every alternative to avoid building a new prison "at all cost."

Segment 1: Two years after Kansas prison riots, facilities are still overcrowded and understaffed.

In 2017 riots broke out in Kansas prisons highlighting the understaffed and overcrowded conditions that exist there. State lawmakers said those conditions still exist and even with the steps taken in the latest session to correct them there is still a long way to go.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

“A Clockwork Orange.” “Invisible Man.” “Twelve Years a Slave.” 

Issues of Bloomberg Businessweek, Us Weekly, Elle.

“Excel 2016 for Dummies.” “Tarot Fundamentals.” “Electrical Theory.”

Over the past 15 years, the Kansas Department of Corrections banned those titles, and about 7,000 others, from its prisons across the state.

Ed Uthman, Creative Commons (bit.ly/31qRfnM)

Kansas can no longer put off care for Medicaid patients with hepatitis C because of a recent legal settlement. But hundreds of the state’s prison inmates not covered by that lawsuit will have to wait another year for the pricey treatment.

Creative Commons-CC0

The state spending review panel is freeing up some of the money the Kansas Department of Corrections asked for to place inmates in county jails and private facilities. Prison officials say it’s a last resort.

Seg. 1: Transforming American Prosecution | Seg. 2: Where Were You?

May 14, 2019

Segment 1: District attorneys' exercise of power has affected mass incarceration and convicted the innocent. 

The United States is the only country in the world that elects its prosecutors who can exert greater influence over criminal cases than judges. The author of "Charged" explained that while these prosecutors can be the "cause of enormous injustice" the pendulum may be swinging the other way as voters are putting more reform-minded candidates in office.

Jobs For Felons Hub / CC BY 2.0

Kansas may soon turn to private contractors to take the overflow from its crowded prisons, raising questions about growing costs and the reliability of for-profit jails.

That plan ran into complications over the weekend when lawmakers insisted on a closer review from a state commission to OK some of the line-by-line spending. But taxpayers could soon be spending almost $36 million more to deal with a range of problems in the prison system.

B. Jamie / Public domain

Almost half the people locked up in Kansas prisons admit they have a history of domestic violence — getting the cops called after an argument with a partner, having a restraining order against them or serving time for beating or threatening a family member or partner.

Some of those people end up in batterer intervention programs — sometimes while they’re behind bars, other times during probation or parole. The weekly workshops stretch over months, aiming to pinpoint what drives someone to violence, and searching for ways to break those cycles.

Segment 1: Response and recovery to flooding in the Midwest.

We hear regional reactions to the devastating flood waters now making their way through Missouri, and learn about the recovery effort and how the Army Corps of Engineers is planning for the possibilty of more flooding this spring.

Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons-Flickr

The company hired to provide health care in Kansas prisons is getting paid millions less than its contracted amount after failing to meet the agreement’s terms.

State officials reduced payments to Corizon Health because the company failed to hire enough nurses and other health workers. Corizon lost additional money after audits found it fell short of performance standards for a range of medical services.

Now, the Kansas Department of Corrections says the contractor has one more year to look after the health of 10,000 people in its prisons.

Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons-Flickr

The Kansas secretary of corrections calls staffing shortages at a state prison an emergency.

Worker shortages are a persistent problem the state prison system. Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said it’s especially bad at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, where staff already work long shifts. The prison holds about 1,700 inmates and currently has about 85 unfilled jobs.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Hunter Defenbaugh loves working in prison.

Five nights a week, the 19-year-old corrections officer works overnight shifts in the infirmary at El Dorado Correctional Facility 30 miles northeast of Wichita. He checks on sick inmates, gives them blankets, calls nurses for help.

Defenbaugh likes the job, he says, because he likes helping people. It beats his old gigs flipping burgers at McDonald’s or ringing up customers at Walmart.

Verkeorg / Flickr - CC

Segment 1: Prison consolidation, small pay bumps and more transparency are key to success in Missouri corrections department.

Since taking over Missouri's Department of Corrections nearly two years ago, Anne Precythe has been busy. She's charged with turning around a state agency that's struggled to retain staff and to keep inmates and prison employees safe from assault. Today, Precythe filled us in on the steps she's taken to ameliorate the issues her department is facing.

Benjamin Todd Wills

Benjamin Todd Wills seems to understand that community is all-inculsive. That is, a community is not just made up of law-abiding families and hard-working citizens, it's also composed of those who've made grave errors and are paying the price.

For years, Wills, an art professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, has corresponded with inmates. After he mentioned to one man that he's a sculptor, the man sent a paper airplane with a note that read: “As far as a sculpture goes, this is the best that I can do.”

Segment 1: How paper airplanes communicate the trials of prison.

A new exhibit from a Kansas City-based artist explores the relationships between inmates and the world outside of prison. Airplanes is currently on display at the Kansas City Public Library.

  • Benjamin Todd Mills, artist and activist

Segment 2, beginning at 17:57: Julia Child is reborn through musical cake-baking.

File photo / Kansas News Service

Kansas prisons spend almost four times as much on overtime pay as they did six years ago. 

The state paid out more than $8.2 million on overtime in fiscal year 2018 and is on track to spend even more in 2019, with overtime exceeding $5 million in just the first half of the fiscal year.

That’s compared to fiscal year 2013, when the state paid out just $1.8 million in overtime.

Leavenworth's mayor, Jermaine Wilson, is uniquely positioned to, as he puts it, bring voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless. The new mayor was once a convicted felon.

His swearing-in on January 8, he said, felt as if he was living in a dream.

"And I know God gave me another chance. And to see that the people gave me another chance … I was just overwhelmed with unexplainable joy," Wilson told KCUR's Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

In the 1950s, SuEllen Fried got a call asking if she'd like to teach the cha-cha to psychiatric patients at the Osawatomie State Hospital.

She'd danced in St. Louis's Muny Opera as a teen and she'd made plans to move to New York to pursue a career in dance on Broadway. But at the last minute, she fell in love, moved to Kansas City, got married and started a family instead.

Portrait Session With SuEllen Fried

Jan 18, 2019

SuEllen Fried wanted to dance. She never anticipated this passion would lead her to a life of advocacy for child-abuse prevention and prison reform.

By working with patients through dance therapy, she developed a focus on bullying in early childhood. She has co-authored three books on the subject and travels around the nation advocating practical steps in prevention and promoting awareness. This hour-long interview is the latest installment in our Portrait Session series.

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