Government & Politics

Kansas prison staff suffers from high turnover

Ray Roberts
Ray Roberts

Kansas Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts told lawmakers Monday he was concerned about a 16 percent vacancy rate in state corrections officer staff and an average turnover rate of nearly 30 percent.

One reason is low pay compared with some nearby states and local departments, he said.

“We have a lot of churning that takes place,” Roberts told members of a joint committee on corrections and juvenile justice. “The salaries are not competitive.”

Asked if the staffing issues at Kansas correctional facilities had become a safety problem, Roberts said overtime pay had helped bridge the gap.

“It’s always a concern,” said Roberts, who recently announced he would retire at the end of the year, “and we’d like to see it improved.”

Some other states have much lower turnover rates and higher starting salaries, a department report showed.

The starting salary for Kansas uniformed corrections staff is $28,309, compared with Colorado at $39,276 and Iowa at $37,482. Colorado’s turnover rate is 13 percent and Iowa’s is about 10 percent. However, Missouri has a $28,404 starting salary and a turnover rate of 17.4 percent.

Roberts also told legislators that the state’s growing prison population must be addressed. The state will be short hundreds of prison beds for male inmates by 2018, he said.

Options include building new beds at a construction cost of about $27 million, contracting for additional private beds and reducing prison time through inmate programs.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said building new space should be off the table. Increasing the number of people incarcerated is “exactly the wrong direction to go,” he said.

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican and chairman of the joint committee, said a variety of options should be pursued, including reducing penalties for some marijuana offenses. But ultimately the state will need more prison beds, he said.

“The question is how many and how soon,” Rubin said.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld