Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday the recent wave of violence in state prisons in Kansas is due largely to the movement of prisoners out of the Lansing Correctional Facility as the state prepares to demolish a large portion of that prison and replace it with a new facility.
He also said low wages paid to correctional workers have led to staff shortages at the prisons, which contributes to the unrest.
"The two things I’ve been concerned about are us getting that wage scale up some so we can get more people applying to the prison system, to being guards in the system, and then the movement of people in anticipation of building the new facility in Lansing," Brownback told reporters following a meeting of the State Finance Council.
Brownback's comments contradicted statements made last week by his Secretary of Corrections, Joe Norwood, when he said outside protests were inspiring prisoners to riot.
"They see the incidents in the community, the protesting in the community, and perceive that as a potential means to address their grievances or concerns," the Associated Press quoted Norwood as saying last week.
Last month, Brownback ordered immediate pay raises for employees at the El Dorado Correctional Facility following a prisoner uprising there. That facility has suffered severe staff shortages and high turnover rates in recent months.
Another uprising occurred Sept. 5 at the Norton Correctional Facility in northwest Kansas, a prison that houses only minimum and "low-medium" security inmates.
Brownback did not directly respond to Norwood's statement, but reiterated that the transfers have had a disruptive effect on the prison population. But he also insisted that the transfers, and the building of a new prison, were essential.
"Building a new prison at Lansing is going to be historic," Brownback said. "That one was built, as people have noted, when Lincoln was president. So we just really need a new facility there, and now we’re on track to do that."
Department of Corrections officials were not immediately able to say exactly how many prisoners have been transferred out of Lansing.