Report details security and safety problems in state juvenile system

? Kansas’ primary juvenile correctional facility has been plagued with major safety and security problems that have led to assaults, sexual misconduct and thefts, according to a scathing state report released Tuesday.

Teresa Williams, acting commissioner of the Juvenile Justice Authority, speaks Tuesday to members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee about a report that showed problems at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. Williams acknowledged serious problems at the facility and said she was committed to fixing them.

The audit cited numerous instances where inadequate supervision and training at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka led to juvenile offenders at the facility harming each other and themselves, including attempts at suicide.

For example, in March, a juvenile on suicide watch was injured after banging his head on a wall for an hour before officers intervened, the audit said.

The Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex, or KJCC, is a medium and maximum-security facility located in Topeka that houses 220 male and 20 female juvenile between the ages of 13 and 22.

The Legislative Division of Post Audit said there were top to bottom problems in the operation and culture of the facility, which is beset with high turnover, low pay and abysmal employee morale. Auditors said the problems have been going on for years.

Several members of the Legislative Post-Audit Committee expressed outrage.

“I find this not only quite alarming but really embarrassing to the state,” said state Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.

State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said, “Welcome to smaller government. This is what it looks like when you fail to pay people what they should be paid.”

“Poorly paid people in a bad environment is going to produce turnover,” said state Rep. John Grange, R-El Dorado. The committee ordered Juvenile Justice Authority officials to maintain communication with the committee on ways it was changing the situation.

In March, without comment, Gov. Sam Brownback’s office dismissed Juvenile Justice Authority Commissioner Curtis Whitten and Deputy Commissioner Dennis Casarona.

Brownback then put in place acting commissioner Teresa Williams. On Tuesday, Williams told the committee she and the Brownback administration were overhauling many aspects of the agency.

“The report is inexcusable,” Williams said of the audit. She submitted a 20-page response indicating the agency was implementing the audit’s recommendations.

The audit was requested by state Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City.

Brownback issued a statement that said his administration worked preemptively to address concerns at JJA and blamed the problems on previous administrations.

“By the end of last year it became evident to my administration that the decades-old approach policy makers and previous administrations have taken to juvenile justice in Kansas has failed to provide the safety and security that juvenile offenders require and deserve,” Brownback said.

But state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a member of the House-Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, said the problems have been caused by budget cuts over the past several years. As late as 2008, Kansas was a recognized national leader in criminal justice programs, he said.

“We knew this was coming, but did nothing. Remember Truman’s sign, ‘Buck Stops Here?’ Well, Brownback has one on his desk that says, ‘It’s Not My Fault,'” Ward said.

In addition to sending the report to other legislative committees and the attorney general’s office, the Post-Audit committee decided to send the audit to the U.S. Justice Department for review.

Among the key findings of the audit:

— Inadequate supervision of juvenile offenders, which has led to offender injuries and misconduct;

— Doors within living units routinely been left open when they are supposed to be locked;

— KJCC has employed staff with felony or drug convictions because its background checks are inadequate;

— Officials fail to discipline staff members for policy violations;

— Facility inadequately staffed and employees under-trained;

— Juvenile corrections officers start at less than $13 per hour, which lagged 12 percent below neighboring states;

— Over the past five years, the facility’s 32 percent employee turnover rate was the highest among Kansas correctional facilities, and KJCC has had four different superintendents in six years.