A state audit report released Tuesday paints a troubling picture of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka.
State officials must give top priority to addressing safety and security problems and restoring order at the facility, one of only two maximum and medium security facilities for juvenile offenders in the state. KJCC houses about 220 male and 20 female offenders between the ages of 13 and 22.
The report prepared by the Legislative Division of Post Audit reveals a culture of lax enforcement and regulation that is dangerous to the juveniles being housed at the facility and embarrassing to the state. According to news reports, the audit notes instances in which a lack of supervision allowed juvenile offenders to injure themselves and engage in sexual misconduct. Several offenders reportedly attempted suicide because officers failed to properly monitor their activities. Juveniles were allowed to roam the halls and go into other living units because doors were propped open or left unlocked, and prohibited items made their way into the facility because of lax searches. A key contributing factor revealed by the audit was an inadequate system of background checks that allowed the hiring of staff with felony or drug convictions.
The report could hardly be more damning.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s office released a statement in response to the report saying it was aware of the problems and had been working to correct them since the end of 2011. Two top officials at the Juvenile Justice Authority, which oversees the Topeka facility, were fired in March. Teresa Williams, acting commissioner of JJA, acknowledged that the audit “report is inexcusable” and said the Brownback administration is working to overhaul many aspects of the agency.
The kinds of issues that exist at KJCC don’t occur overnight; auditors confirmed that the facility had been experiencing problems for years. Regardless of how the Topeka facility got into the shape it’s in, it now falls to the Brownback administration to correct the problems. We agree with Williams that the current situation is inexcusable. It is damaging to the state as well as to the young offenders who are in desperate need of supervision, guidance and rehabilitation.
Whatever problems these young people are having now will be magnified when they eventually are released from custody. The governor and his staff need to act quickly to stabilize the situation at the Topeka facility and start working on long-term improvements at the Juvenile Justice Authority.