US

Inmates refusing to return to cells at Kansas prison

An unspecified number of inmates refused to return to their cells at a maximum-security prison in southern Kansas, though no violence or injuries have been reported, the state Department of Corrections said Thursday.

Correctional officers reported that the El Dorado prison went on lockdown after inmates took control of the gym and other areas of the facility, said Robert Choromanski, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union representing prison workers. The union has said for weeks that the prison is understaffed.

Department of Corrections spokesman Todd Fertig said he had few details about the incident and did not immediately address whether the prison was locked down.

"No incidents of violence have occurred, and there have been no injuries to offenders or staff," Fertig said in an emailed statement. "The facility is secure, and measures to return the offenders to the cell houses are ongoing."

The department later tweeted the incident had been "contained."

The El Dorado Correctional Facility is the state's second largest prison, housing some of Kansas' most dangerous offenders. Its population has grown by about 200 inmates over the past three months, to about 1,900 as of Wednesday. The department now lists the prison's capacity as 1,955 inmates, but three months ago, the official figure was about 1,500 inmates. It opened in 1991 about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of Wichita.

Choromanski said the union received reports from corrections officers about inmates taking control of some areas of the prison. An internal email to workers at another prison, forwarded to The Associated Press, also said the El Dorado facility was on lockdown.

Choromanski said in email that guards reported inmates controlled the gym, kitchen, yard and a security office, and staff members from other prisons were called in to help. Choromanski noted the prison has dozens of unfilled staff vacancies and officers must work 12-hour shifts.

Fertig said: "All critical security posts are appropriately staffed in order to maintain the safety and security of the facility."

The Department of Corrections confirmed last week that the El Dorado prison was putting 12-hour shifts into effect for at least 90 days as it attempted to recruit more workers. Warden James Heimgartner called the change a "temporary staffing pattern" in a letter to employees.

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Associated Press writers Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas, and Margaret Stafford and Heather Hollingsworth, in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .