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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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.

Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons-Flickr

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is planning to close Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron and transfer prisoners to the nearby Western Missouri Correctional Facility.

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City entrepreneur Kyle Smith is reporting early success with his effort to help former prisoners build their own businesses.

Smith says he was startled to learn that nearly 43 percent of people on parole in Missouri are unemployed. In February, he launched a business support group called Be the Boss. So far, more than 40 people have attended at least once.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

A state audit of Kansas’s only juvenile corrections facility uncovered allegations of violence between staff members and sexual relationships between workers and the underage inmates.

A survey attempted to reach 229 current and former employees of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. Only 48 responded.