By Travis Perry | Kansas Watchdog
TOPEKA — Female juvenile offenders are being denied the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex.
This gender inequality was cited in an audit presented Wednesday by researchers from the Legislative Division of Post Audit, which blasted KJCC and Juvenile Justice Authority officials for the lack of opportunities at the Topeka facility.
“The programs don’t necessarily need to be the same, but they need to be equal,” researcher Laurel Murdie said to members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee.
Females have made up a small portion of KJCC’s inmate population, since the state closed the Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility for female inmates in 2009.
LPA researchers said while course work and classes are balanced between genders through the facility’s high school curriculum, the same cannot be said about post-secondary, technical and work-study offerings at KJCC.
KJCC’s 20 female offenders only have access to two technical and three work-study programs, compared with the seven technical and eight work-study programs offered to the 220 male offenders, according to the audit.
And while post-secondary classes haven’t been offered since 2010, they’ve never been made available to female offenders at KJCC.
Additionally, the audit criticized KJCC for limiting female offenders’ access to physical education classes, highlighting that while male inmates were allowed to use one of the facility’s two gymnasiums, females were forced to hold physical education classes in an unoccupied living unit within the building.
Acting JJA Commissioner Terri Williams said a large reason for the inequity was because of KJCC’s limited facilities and its need to keep male and female offenders separate at all times. Williams stepped into the role earlier this year after Gov. Sam Brownback fired former JJA Commissioner Curtis Whitten in March.
State Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, commissioned the initial audit after a troubling tour of KJCC last year, during which she was made aware of inappropriate remarks Whitten made to female offenders.
“He called them his ‘little babies’ and his ‘little angels,’ and they were to call him ‘papa,’” Kultala said in a previous interview.
But Williams said she didn’t think sexism was the root problem behind the inequities.
“Certainly we’ve got some challenges with having closed Beloit, which used to be its own facility, and moving the females to Topeka,” Williams said. “You’ve just got to do that in a thoughtful way and be constantly reevaluating your systems and what you offer, and that’s what I’m hoping we’re doing.”
The most recent issues brought to light are just some of the many challenges facing Williams.
“I have felt like since I’ve been here I’ve been in crisis management mode, and that’s not a good place to be, it’s not a place I like to be,” Williams said. “I like to be more planful and methodical in my approach to agency issues, so that’s been a challenge. But I do feel like incrementally we’re getting to where we’re doing less of the reactive, putting out fires, and a little bit more of taking a step back and being a bit more planful.”