Topeka Kansas legislative auditors said Thursday that prison officials missed warning signs that resulted in inappropriate contact between staff and inmates at three facilities, including the Topeka prison for women.
The audit, presented to the Legislative Post Audit Committee, examined allegations of widespread sexual misconduct at the Topeka prison. It also reviewed inmate escapes at the El Dorado and Lansing prisons aided by staffers who had relationships with the prisoners.
Auditors found that prison officials failed to take measures to prevent what is described as undue familiarity between staff and inmates.
Cases at all three prisons “had red flags facility officials should have recognized and acted upon which could have prevented each of the incidents,” auditors wrote.
Legislators called the audit’s findings “serious” and said prison management problems go beyond having a lack of staff or security cameras. “There were some very big problems at Topeka that weren’t addressed for some time,” said Sen. Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican and chairman of the Post Audit Committee.
Bruce said it would require a larger audit of all eight state prisons to see whether the problems were systemwide.
The review was prompted by the sexual misconduct allegations at the Topeka prison. Allegations of trading sex for contraband and other special treatment led to the warden’s reassignment. Auditors found that discipline cases at Topeka, compared to the other two prisons examined, suggested a pattern of leniency toward staff.
Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz said he will work with legislators to act on the audit’s recommendations.
Auditors urged legislators to increase the penalties for prison staff for sexual misconduct and trafficking in contraband, and to improve how information about staff involved in undue familiarity is managed. Staff convicted of sexual misconduct also would be required to register with the state as a sex offender.
Keen Umbehr, a Topeka attorney representing some of the female Topeka inmates, said legislators have a great opportunity to correct problems that have been allowed to fester.
“You don’t accidentally have sex with an inmate. When you raise the penalty, you don’t take the chance,” Umbehr said.
The audit also calls for continued review of the Topeka prison to ensure female inmates are protected.
Umbehr said new leadership was needed and that Gov. Mark Parkinson should make changes based on the audit’s findings.