TOPEKA, Kan. — A legislative audit released last week questioned the Kansas Department of Corrections’ (DOC) recent plan to replace the state’s oldest and largest prison.
The DOC wants to replace its prison in Lansing because parts of it date back to the 1860s, reported the Associated Press. The department emphasized to legislators in recent presentations that a new prison would be safer and would require fewer employees to run than simply building newer buildings. It added that the least expensive option to pursue a replacement project would be to have the construction company building the prison lease it to the state for up to 40 years before the state of Kansas took ownership. Under that agreement, the department said that annual savings from operating costs would more than cover lease payments.
As a result of these DOC statements, lawmakers approved a lease-purchase deal and $155 million in bonds to finance the new prison. However, the audit said costs of bonds over 20 years would be between $178 million and $193 million, and a 20-year lease-purchase agreement would cost $206 million. That drastically differs from the department’s plan that said a lease-purchase deal would be $13 million cheaper over 20 years, according to the Associated Press.
Auditors told the Associated Press that missing variables and inconsistent assumptions were used in the department estimates in an effort to favor the lease-purchase option. The department did not formally dispute the audit’s findings, and true costs of the prison project won’t be revealed until bid proposals are reviewed. The department hopes a final construction contract will be awarded later this fall.
This is the second issue that put the DOC under fire this summer, as multiple inmate disturbances were reported in May and June at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, located near Wichita. Those included groups of inmates refusing to return to their cells. As such, state Senator Laura Kelly (D), a member of the joint legislative committee that directs auditors’ work, is pushing to have legislative auditors conduct a similar audit at the facility. A vote on whether or not that will happen is expected to take place in October.
Todd Fertig, a DOC spokesman, said that the agency has “never had a lack of transparency,” according to the Hutchinson Post, a local news outlet.