News from El Dorado Correctional Facility becomes more worrisome each day.
The prison’s population swelled to almost 1,900 this summer with more maximum-security prisoners being transferred from prisons in Hutchinson and Lansing.
Add to that a shortage of prison guards — more than 90 vacancies were reported this month. Officers are sometimes working 16-hour shifts, which the officers’ union said in a grievance violates an employment agreement and raises concerns about inmate and guard safety.
Last week, an inmate stabbed another inmate multiple times. On June 29, some inmates refused for hours to return to their cells, and there’s a discrepancy on whether there was violence: Unidentified guards and an emergency call log said there was; the Department of Corrections said there wasn’t. …
Two guards — one current and one who’s left El Dorado — said guards don’t have the training to handle maximum-security prisoners.
There’s more. At its current pace, the number of 2017 disciplinary cases will surpass the number of all 2016 cases by the end of August. There were 550 reports in June — more than double the number of any month in 2016.
… If only the solution was hiring more guards. Eligible replacements aren’t showing themselves. The Department of Corrections has participated in job fairs and sent mailers to homes in the El Dorado area. The head of the guards’ union, Robert Choromanski, said as many as 125 vacancies may be a more accurate number.
There are no easy and immediate solutions. Making Corrections jobs more attractive by raising pay can’t happen until the Legislature convenes in January.
Staffing shortages, longer shifts and more prisoners — some of whom are double bunking in cells to alleviate crowding — make up a combination that could lead to more disturbances such as the June 29 incident
Department of Corrections secretary Joe Norwood must respond to the union grievance over 16-hour shifts by Aug. 2. More importantly, Norwood and prison officials should do everything possible to eliminate those shifts and return to 12-hour shifts allowed by contract.
Guards’ safety and working conditions should be a priority so they can do their jobs more effectively and limit the number of disturbances that a crowded prison population can create.
— The Wichita Eagle