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Archive for Tuesday, February 17, 2009

State parks lose inmate labor

February 17, 2009

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— The closing of three rural Kansas correctional facilities to save money is causing state parks to lose inmate labor they’ve used for years.

Some of the parks have depended on the labor for more than 40 years and lack the budget to hire workers to replace the inmates.

The prisons at Toronto, Osawatomie and Stockton are being closed to save the Kansas Department of Corrections about $900,000 a year. The closings were announced last month. The roughly 160 inmates from the three prisons are being moved to other facilities around the state.

The closings could lead to more costs in such areas as park services and maintenance.

“It’s a very difficult situation because it looks like the state is adding to the budget with one hand and taking it away with another,” said Kelly Johnston, who chairs the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks commission.

Corrections officials say the parks benefited from more than 81,000 hours of inmate labor last year. They say they realize the closings will have a negative effect.

They say the camps could reopen if the economy improves, but that they expect mandates for more budget cuts in 2010.

Roger Werholtz, secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections, said the agency is having to find more than $9 million in 2009 budget cuts, as requested by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Legislature.

“Whenever we’ve had budget recessions in the past, closing facilities has been a possibility,” Werholtz said. “But this is the first time we’ve had to go that deep.”

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