Kansas Supreme Court cancels arguments on releasing inmates; another prison disturbance reported
photo by: Associated Press
Story updated at 8:40 a.m. Wednesday
TOPEKA — The Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday night canceled arguments from attorneys over a civil rights’ group attempt to force the state to release prison inmates with preexisting medical conditions making them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
The high court’s actions came with arguments originally set for Wednesday afternoon in a lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas for seven inmates at state prisons in Ellsworth, Lansing and Topeka. A two-page order signed by Justice Marla Luckert sent the case to district court in Leavenworth County, home to the Lansing prison.
The lawsuit argues that the inmates are housed in crowded conditions with limited access to adequate medical care. It also contended that releasing vulnerable inmates would allow proper social distancing and reduce the virus’ transmission among remaining prisoners.
But lawyers for the Department of Corrections and Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and Luckert’s order said the state’s response showed “there are significant issues of fact” that should be settled in district court.
The state has confirmed that 18 inmates and 21 staff at the Lansing prison have tested positive for coronavirus. An inmate at a work-release facility in Wichita also tested positive, prompting the Department of Corrections to move 113 prisoners Sunday night to Lansing.
Gov. Laura Kelly has said efforts are underway to identify inmates who are close to finishing their sentences and can be released.
Jails already have started shrinking their populations, including one in Sedgwick County that now has nearly 400 fewer inmates.
Kansas sees another disturbance at prison, 2nd within week
ELLSWORTH — Inmates at a state prison in central Kansas threw trash from their cells and damaged security cameras during a weekend disturbance that was the second outbreak of prison unrest in less than a week.
The state Department of Corrections reported Tuesday that between 125 and 150 inmates were involved in the incident Sunday at the Ellsworth Correctional Facility. The disturbance lasted less than two hours and resulted in no staff or inmate injuries but prompted the lockdown of a building that houses 512 medium-security prisoners.
The disturbance came only three days after inmates in one cell house at the Lansing Correctional Facility outside the Kansas City area rampaged through offices, destroying windows and setting small fires for several hours.
The department has said about 50 inmates appeared to be involved at first in the Lansing disturbance, with between 20 or 30 participating through Thursday evening. No staff or inmates were injured
Spokeswoman Rebecca Witte said the Department of Corrections has not yet identified the cause of either disturbance.
Related coverage: Douglas County courts and jail
• March 24, 2020: Douglas County Jail suspends visitation amid ‘stay at home’ order