The Kansas Department of Corrections announced Thursday it had selected a bidder to rebuild the state’s oldest, largest prison, pushing forwarding on the project despite hesitation from several legislators.
The Joint Committee on State Building Construction declined to make a recommendation on whether the state should approve KDOC’s plan to rebuild Lansing Correctional Facility, citing several concerns about the plan. They asked KDOC to look at other options for building the prison and engage stakeholders, like mental health providers and sentencing commission. Legislators on the committee approved the rest of KDOC’s five-year capital improvement plan.
CoreCivic, one of the nation’s largest operators of private prisons, will design, build and maintain a new Lansing Correctional Facility, Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood announced. The plan requires approval by the State Finance Council. The project would cost about $362 million over a 20-year lease from CoreCivic and house more than 2,400 inmates. After 20 years, Kansas would own the prison again.
Nashville-based CoreCivic was chosen over GEO Group, of Boca Raton, Fla., which had a more expensive lease and asked an additional $200 million for the state to buy back the prison.
Kansas Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood has been pushing to replace Lansing, parts of which date back to the 1860s, with a more modern facility. He said the aging facility in Lansing takes up nearly half the department’s budget for capital improvements and requires intense staffing because of the outdated design.
“As the infrastructure at Lansing continues to age and and continues to deteriorate, it will require additional resources to continue to operate that facility as it is today,” Norwood said.
Legislators have criticized Norwood’s proposal to have CoreCivic lease the prison back to the state. Several legislators favor issuing bonds, hiring a contractor and building the facility while maintaining state ownership. An audit released earlier this summer found that option would be cheaper, contradicting KDOC’s claims.
Norwood said KDOC didn’t receive any bids from companies interested in building the prison through bond financing.
CoreCivic CEO and President Damon Hininger said the company typically didn’t do bond-financed builds. It typically runs private prisons and started building and leasing prisons about four years ago.
“We bring to the table a lot of expertise on building facilities,” Hininger said. “No one’s built more prisons or jails or detention centers in the past 10 years than we have.”
Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican, said the audit proved having the state bond and build the prison was the “superior,” less expensive option.
“And here we are with zero bids going in that direction,” said Rep. J.R. Claeys, a Salina Republican.
Claeys also favored having communities bid to house the prison rather than automatically placing it back in Lansing.
“This whole thing seems to be a train rolling down the tracks,” Claeys said.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said she thought it was “inevitable” that contractors would only bid on the lease option when KDOC sought proposals for both options.
“Contractors make more money on a lease-purchase option than they will on the bonding approach, so I’m not happy with the fact that Secretary Norwood is not being a good steward of taxpayer money,” Kelly said.
CoreCivic faces several federal lawsuits over its operation of a U.S. Marshall’s Service detention center in Leavenworth for employment discrimination and spying on communications. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General found the detention center had improper oversight, was often understaffed and left security posts unmanned.