Wichita — State prisoners won't return anytime soon to a Kansas jail where four inmates escaped earlier this month, and most of the sex offenders and convicted killers housed in three other county jails have been moved to state prisons, the state's corrections secretary said.
The four inmates, including a former gang member convicted of killing two people when he was 17, were captured less than 60 hours after they broke out of the Ottawa County Jail in Minneapolis, Kan., on April 18.
The escape raised questions about the types of criminals being transferred from state prisons to county jails to help ease overcrowding. In addition to Santos Carrera-Morales, who was convicted in Wichita of two counts of first-degree murder, the other three escapees had records that included aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, robbery, aggravated battery, kidnapping in commission of a crime and aggravated battery.
Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts told The Wichita Eagle that several inmates doing time for sex crimes or murder have been moved from jails to prison to help the public feel safe.
"We're trying to be sensitive to the public's perceptions, but we stand by our jails that we have our inmates in; we deem those to be safe and secure," Roberts said.
The four county jails had contracts with the state to house prisoners for about $40 a day. Besides Ottawa County, jails in Butler, Cowley and Leavenworth counties all had been built within the past decade and were newer than the state prisons, Roberts said.
The state's prisons are 200 inmates over capacity, he said.
Carrera-Morales was arrested without incident April 19 at a truck stop in Russell, about 80 miles from where he escaped. One of the other escapees was arrested soon after breaking out, one turned himself in North Platte, Neb., and the other was arrested in Omaha, Neb.
No convicted murderers currently are being held in either the Butler or Cowley County jails under contract with the state, while the Leavenworth County jail had two inmates with convictions for second-degree murder or attempted first-degree murder.
Roberts said that at least for the near term, the state wouldn't need to send any inmates to the Ottawa County jail.
State Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican who heads legislative committees that deal with corrections issues, said state policy should be not to send convicted murders from state prisons to county jails, unless they had served their time, are about to be released and are part of an approved work-release program.
Although she doesn't think convicted murderers are automatically at a higher risk of escape, Colloton said, the nature of their crimes raises concern among the public.
"I think people's feeling safe is as important as them actually being safe," she said.
Roberts said the need to move some state inmates to county jails was prompted by legislative changes that are sending more offenders to prison and for longer terms. He said he hopes the Legislature will approve an expansion of state prison beds to reduce the need to send inmates to county jails.