Archive for Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Editorial: Safety concerns

Incidents that result in injuries to on-duty corrections officers should never be taken lightly.

June 18, 2014


Officers at the Lansing Correctional Facility may not be particularly comforted by the response of state officials to reported safety concerns at the facility.

It’s pretty easy for someone sitting in an office at the Kansas Department of Corrections to dismiss such reports. It’s a lot harder if you’re the person interacting directly with inmates at the facility on a daily basis.

The Kansas Organization of State Employees issued a statement this week expressing “extreme concern” about conditions at Lansing based on what the group described as erupting violence at the state prison. KOSE cited five incidents involving inmates between June 5 and June 9 that resulted in injuries to 10 correctional officers. The group further explained that the injuries were severe and included broken teeth, a torn rotator cuff and fingers bitten down to the bone.

No, no, said Jeremy Barclay, a communications officer for the Corrections department, that’s not what happened. Actually there were only three incidents in those five days and only six staff members were injured. And none of the injuries was serious. “None of the injuries required hospitalization,” he explained.

Well then, everything is fine.

What qualifies as a serious injury apparently is a matter of perspective. It’s understandable that state corrections officials would want to downplay any potential problems at the Lansing facility, but even three incidents that resulted in significant injuries over a five-day period seems like a problem that requires attention, not the dismissive attitude displayed by Barclay’s statement that, “It’s a correctional facility. We’re not housing people who have a propensity toward good behavior.”

The Lansing facility houses about 2,300 inmates and is supposed to have a staff of 509 uniformed officers to oversee those inmates. However, there currently are 27 vacant officer positions meaning that existing officers are working overtime to fill gaps. Barclay said the state is working to fill those vacancies but acknowledged to a Leavenworth newspaper that it’s not always easy to find the right people to fill those jobs.

The concerns being expressed by current Lansing officers isn’t likely to make hiring any easier.

Under the best of circumstances, working in a facility like Lansing, which has units for maximum-, medium- and minimum-security prisoners, is a stressful job that carries with it some inherent risks. The least the state officials overseeing these facilities can do is take the concerns of their officers seriously and do their best to maximize safety and minimize risks for the people who work directly with inmates every day.


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