TOPEKA — Kansas legislators might renew a discussion over repealing the death penalty as the Kansas Department of Corrections moves ahead with plans to rebuild the state prison that houses the execution chamber.
The Kansas Department of Corrections has been working toward rebuilding the Lansing Correctional Facility and narrowed the search for a private designer and builder, but it has not decided where it would put a replacement for the execution chamber, KDOC’s director of capital improvements, Mike Gaito, said Thursday at a Legislative Budget Committee meeting.
Gaito said there was some interest in moving that function to El Dorado Correctional Facility, which houses death-row inmates, but nothing had been decided.
“We have given some thought to it,” Gaito said.
Gaito’s comment came in response to a question posed by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and committee member. McGinn said she thought it looked like KDOC had not thought about where it would put a new execution chamber.
“I’m just kind of curious,” McGinn said. “If we’re going to build a new facility, that should be something that we think about.”
McGinn said the state spent $1 million last year to review appeals from death-row inmates and spends more money to have the death penalty than it would to house inmates for life sentences. Kansas has not executed anyone since 1965, according to KDOC.
“Maybe we should just get rid of the death penalty,” she said.
The Lansing rebuild is not the only reason the Legislature would take another look at the death penalty, said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat and committee member.
“I think that people have been sort of waiting in the wings for an opportunity to bring that up, and this does present, though, an excellent opportunity to do that,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the state spends approximately $500,000 each year to have the death penalty and would have to put up extra money to rebuild its execution chamber.
McGinn also raised concerns over KDOC’s plan to double-bunk inmates in the new facility.
“If we’re moving forward, I don’t think we should be moving forward on a limited plan that is just going to be double-bunking maximum security,” McGinn said.
KDOC Secretary Joe Norwood said last week cells at the new facility would be large enough to double-bunk inmates under federal guidelines despite legislators’ concerns over the practice.
Thursday also marked the first time KDOC released the names of the private companies bidding to redesign and rebuild the Lansing facility. Gaito said it had narrowed consideration from three to two companies, CoreCivic, based in Tennessee, and GEO Group, based in Florida.
The Associated Press previously reported KDOC was considering a company called Lansing Correctional Partners, which had no apparent online presence or business filings in its purported headquarters of Memphis, Tenn.
Gaito said KDOC still was in negotiations with those companies and expected to finish that process in early November.