By Travis Perry│Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — After nearly three decades of negligence, the Juvenile Justice Authority is instituting changes at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka.
Among the changes are the enforcement of tighter, airport-like security screening procedures to prevent contraband from entering the facility and creating an atmosphere of accountability, said Jan Lunsford, public information officer for the Juvenile Justice Authority and the Department of Corrections.
“It’s creating the culture to change,” Lunsford said. “It’s a lot of attitude as much as anything.”
Interim Commissioner Terri Williams could not be reached for comment on the changes she is making at the youth incarceration facility.
A recent audit by the Legislative Division of Post Audit disclosed inadequate supervision of juvenile offenders, who harmed themselves or others and committed theft or sexual misconduct; and staff and visitors bringing prohibited items into the facility, among other issues.
State Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, who serves on the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight, commissioned the audit after she toured KJCC in the fall.
The audit is divided into two parts. The first half focused on safety and security and was released in July. The second half will analyze program issues and opportunities afforded to incarcerated youths, and will be completed later in 2012.
Kultala observed that the small group of female juvenile offenders at KJCC lacked extracurricular activities, which is expected to be addressed in the second part of the audit.
Not addressed in the first part of the audit were Kultala’s concerns about female officers being absent from the complex’s female wing, as well as the way former Juvenile Justice Authority Commissioner Curtis Whitten referred to the female inmates.
“He called them his ‘little babies’ and his ‘little angels,’ and they were to call him ‘papa,’” Kaltala said.
Lunsford said the Juvenile Justice Authority is focusing on implementing “the best practices and procedures that we can to make sure the facility is indeed secure,” rather than ask for a bigger budget.
“I think it’s more internal than any additional funding right now,” Lunsford said.
He added that Williams, who is splitting time between the KJCC and her role as Deputy Secretary for Community and Field Services for the state Department of Corrections, is committed to turning around the facility.
“It starts at the top and works all the way down — everyone must be accountable — and that includes her,” Lunsford said.
Mike Marvin, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the largest public employee union in Kansas, said he’s aware of the audit, but hasn’t read it.
Marvin said he has heard some complaints from KJCC staff about scheduling changes, involving more weekend shifts.
“That’s basically all we’ve been getting out of them,” Marvin said.
Gov. Sam Brownback booted Whitten and Deputy Commissioner Dennis Casarona in March. The two men were fired as part of the governors plan to address growing concerns about JJA and KJCC, similar to the issues Kaltala voiced.
Kaltala knew the facility had problems, but said she could never have imagined what the audit would uncover.
Among the audit’s findings were:
- Officers failing to monitor juveniles on suicide watch, resulting in the youths hurting themselves;
- Staff members leaving secure doors open, not locked, resulting in juveniles roaming the complex;
- Juvenile offenders being left in the kitchen with knives without the supervision of a corrections officer;
- Inadequate background checks leading to staff members being hired with felony or drug convictions.
“That was way more than I had expected for them to find, and that’s only part one,” Kaltala said.
“I just wanted to shine a light on the situation,” she added. “Then, I was expecting the administration and the (Juvenile Justice Authority) to make the necessary changes to the way that things are being run.”
Contact Travis Perry at email@example.com.