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Archive for Friday, July 2, 2004

Advocate wants jail inspections throughout state

July 2, 2004

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— Having won enactment of a law requiring investigation of deaths in jails and prisons, a human rights advocate kicked off efforts Thursday to require all new jails and prisons to be accredited.

Sonny Scroggins, of Topeka, is seeking legislation requiring all state, county and city correctional facilities built after July 1, 2005, to be inspected and accredited. Scroggins said the goal was to ensure the safety of corrections officers and inmates.

"In light of the controversy over prisoners of war, it would behoove us as a nation to look at prisoner safety," Scroggins said during a news conference at the Kansas Juvenile Corrections Complex in north Topeka.

He said an annual review of the procedures and facilities would give a greater measure of oversight to the correctional system and prevent problems before they occurred.

Through 1996, the Department of Corrections had two staff members who inspected Kansas jails and offered recommendations to jail and county officials for changes. Agency spokesman Bill Miskell said the program was cut because of budget problems.

"In many cases, they would follow what we recommended or modify it and attempt to correct the problem to maintain compliance," Miskell said.

Scroggins said any inspection program must come with enforcement power, something the previous program lacked.

Budget concerns also prompted the state prison system to curtail an accreditation program in 2001, which cost about $500,000 a year with a staff of 12. The program was halted entirely in 2003.

"From the counties' standpoint, to have someone come in and do some kind of objective review of operations, policies, procedures based on some recognized standards, there's always a benefit to that," Miskell said.

Earlier this year, legislators enacted a law requiring the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to investigate the deaths of inmates in state prisons and county jails. The law also applies to Kansas prisoners being detained in out-of-state prisons. The results are to be given to legislators and made public.

Sen. Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said there was no evidence of problems that would necessitate inspections and accreditation but added that the subject was appropriate amid growing concerns about prison capacity.

"Certainly, philosophically, I have no problem with the concept that there should be some measure to ensure minimum standards regardless of where he or she is incarcerated," said Schmidt, who co-sponsored the death review law with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

Schmidt said he would look into Scroggins' concerns further before the 2005 legislative session.

The Rev. Angela Waters, member of the Topeka rights organization Biasbusters, said proper facilities, especially for juveniles and younger offenders, would prevent problems once inmates are released.

"We want them to be better, not bitter, when they get out," she said at the news conference.

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