Archive for Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Warden accused of insensitivity

December 30, 2009

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— The warden of Kansas’ prison for women is accused of making racially insensitive comments and creating a work environment with hardships for female and minority employees, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

But the state’s top corrections official said Tuesday that he has full confidence in Warden Richard Koerner’s management of the Topeka Correctional Facility.

“I haven’t seen any indication of any evidence that would support a conclusion that there’s a hostile work environment there,” Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz told The Associated Press.

The prison’s operations already are being reviewed by outside auditors because of reports in October by The Capital-Journal. The stories suggested that up to a third of the prison’s 250 employees have engaged in an illegal black market, including exchanging sex with female inmates for drugs. Werholtz says the allegation is unfounded.

In its latest report, the newspaper cited claims that Koerner made racially insensitive remarks, including a lynching reference to two black women. The newspaper conducted interviews with current and former prison staff and examined thousands of pages of records.

A female employee has filed two federal lawsuits against the state. They allege on-the-job discrimination and a retaliatory demotion following her complaints about an April 2008 incident in which she was required to remove her bra to pass through a metal detector.

Kent Dunn, a former officer at the prison, is challenging his dismissal in May 2008 for being too friendly with inmates. Dunn, who is black, argued that Koerner, who is white, has shown racial bias.

Werholtz said the department is handling any response to such allegations for Koerner. Corrections officials noted that Dunn’s firing was upheld in January by the state Civil Service Board. Dunn appealed in a lawsuit in state district court.

The racially insensitive comments were made in 1995, when Koerner referred to a black employee, Willie Tabor, as “Willie Boy,” and in April 2000 when Koerner criticized two female officers reorganizing their office. One of them said Koerner said they wouldn’t be happy “if I hung you with a new rope.”

Werholtz acknowledged Tuesday that the remarks were insensitive, but noted that Koerner had apologized. Werholtz said no complaints were filed with the department.

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