LANSING — The Lansing Correctional Facility may be beneficiary of a $362 million facelift created through a proposed financial partnership between the state of Kansas and a private prison developer.
In a visit to the historic facility Tuesday, Gov. Sam Brownback renewed a campaign to convince leaders of the Kansas Legislature to endorse a 20-year lease-to-own deal for the prison upgrade.
“We desperately need a new facility,” Brownback said. “We need a modernized facility, one that is safe for people to work in and for the inmates to be in. The best practices of 150 years ago are not the best practices today.”
The nine-member State Finance Council, which includes top House and Senate leaders and Brownback, convenes Thursday at the Capitol to decide whether to endorse the Kansas Department of Corrections strategy for improving a facility that has housed offenders since 1863.
On Jan. 4, Republican and Democratic members of the council disappointed the governor by delaying a vote on a contract with a private company to finance, design, construct and maintain a new state prison in Lansing.
The hesitancy reflected anxiety about ongoing state budget problems and the contract language with CoreCivic, a firm previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. The new prison buildings would be managed by the state, not CoreCivic.
“In recent years we’ve really had some issues come up, and we need to flyspeck contracts,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. “We look at the impact on the taxpayers.”
Brownback said LCF was “not structured for a modern prison.” The facility under consideration would feature two inmate housing units that would have 1,920 beds and 512 beds, respectively. Seventy-five percent of the cells would be two-person units, and 25 percent would be four-person units.
The facility would feature indoor and outdoor recreation areas, as well as improved lighting. It would have modern utility systems that provide energy savings. The design would include security systems that would include magnetic door switches and enhanced video surveillance systems.
Samir Arif, spokesman for the corrections department, said the project would result in $23 million in savings over life of the lease with CoreCivic. State officials said the savings would largely result from dramatic reductions in staffing in the new complex. In recent years, the state has struggled to fill staff vacancies at prisons throughout the state system. Pay raises offered corrections workers haven’t eliminated the shortage.
The Department of Corrections announced in February 2017 a plan to explore options for constructing a new facility at LCF. Some legislators would have preferred the agency develop the prison project by using proceeds from the sale of bonds to construct the prison and then repay the bonds with state tax revenue.
In addition, auditors with the Legislature concluded the corrections department incorrectly projected savings of a lease-purchase agreement in a preliminary analysis. The Legislature’s joint building committee declined to recommend approval of a prison contract with CoreCivic.
“I know the city (of Lansing) is certainly hoping the rebuild of the correctional facility happens,” said Lansing City Administrator Tim Vandall, who attended the news conference with Brownback and Lansing Mayor Mike Smith. “We think it would be a great thing for the state of Kansas and would be an efficient use of tax dollars.”
Vandall said the objective was construction of a facility capable of serving the state’s public safety interests for many years.
“The correctional facility is showing some wear and tear,” Vandall said. “It’s certainly in need of some improvements. It’s an outdated facility and you don’t operate a correctional facility now the way they did 150 years ago.”
Brownback also praised KDOC’s mentor program during his visit to Lansing. Two inmates and their mentors attended the news conference. The governor recently shared benefits of the program with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a two-way relationship, and it’s a beautiful one,” Brownback said of the mentor program.
Brownback said his nomination as an ambassador for international religious freedom in the Trump administration “appears to be progressing.”