After Recent Escape, Kansas Discusses Policy Change

TOPEKA, Kan. — A recent escape by four inmates from Ottawa County Jail in Minneapolis, Kan., sparked a proposal by lawmakers to restrict the types of inmates the Kansas Department of Corrections could house in county jails. However, the amendment was rejected with a 79-41 vote.

The escapees included one convicted murderer and three other inmates that were being held at the county jail due to overcrowding at the Kansas State Prison in Ellsworth, according to department spokesman Jeremy Barclay.

The four escapees were recaptured within three days, but left lawmakers with the chance to create a different system for housing inmates.

The amendment would have prevented convicted rapists and murderers from being housed in county jails. Although the bill was rejected — legislators agreed that a debate over the issue of public safety needed to take place.

“I think this is a debate that we need to have,” said Rep. Doug Gatewood, a Columbus Democrat. “That policy needs to be looked at very, very carefully given the recent jailbreaks that we have had.”

The reasoning behind rejecting the bill, according to House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee Chairwoman Pat Colloton, is that the amendment restricts the ability to manage prison populations.

By signing the bill it would prevent the corrections department from transferring inmates who completed their sentences to county jails for work-release programs as part of their transition back to society, according to Colloton. She continued to explain that such transfers can alleviate prison crowding and are viewed as lower risk.

Despite the bill’s rejection, the recent escapes have still caused concern for the Department of Corrections. The department is currently reviewing its policy and how it certifies whether jails are acceptable for state inmates in light of the April escape, said Barclay.

Colloton said the topic is anticipated for discussion during the summer and fall interim session before the 2013 session.