TOPEKA — The Kansas Department of Corrections has extended an “officially declared emergency” at El Dorado Correctional Facility that can require employees to work up to 18-hour shifts, the corrections’ officers union said Friday.
KDOC declared an emergency at El Dorado last month because of persistent staffing shortages. In a letter dated Sept. 18, the department notified Kansas Organization for State Employees executive director Robert Choromanski that the emergency declaration would be extended for 90 days. The KOSE union represents corrections officers.
The El Dorado prison in south-central Kansas has struggled to maintain adequate staffing levels, spurring a need to have officers work long shifts. As of Sept. 5, 87 of its uniformed officer positions were vacant. It also was the site of an hours-long uprising in June.
In response, Gov. Sam Brownback authorized a 10-percent pay raise for El Dorado officers and 5-percent raises at other prisons to help mitigate staffing shortages. Choromanski said that’s not enough.
“It’s still not the solution to the problem,” Choromanski said. “$15.75 is a good step, but it’s still under what other local detention centers and sheriff’s departments are paying.”
Choromanski repeatedly has called for a special session of the Legislature to authorize a larger pay raise for officers. He also said pay raises have been largely swallowed up by rising health-care premiums officers have to pay.
“It will probably have to take another riot or another incident like El Dorado had this summer to get the Legislature’s attention again,” Choromanski said.
Choromanski said it’s difficult to recruit officers because of the low pay and six weeks it takes to train a new officer.
“It’s hard work,” Choromanski said.
KDOC spokesman Samir Arif said in a statement the letter was a procedural step KDOC had to follow.
“Extending the emergency declaration is part of the procedures that the Department of Corrections has to follow to notify the employees union — in order to maintain emergency staffing levels,” Arif said. “Staffing issues are nothing new to the department.”
Brownback did not immediately respond to a request for comment.