State announces changes to LCMHF operations
By Mike Gilmore
Hi, Neighbor! Newspapers
TOPEKA — The state is transferring “mental health” from the Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility.
A news release detailing planned changes to the LCMHF’s operations structure was expected from the Kansas Department of Corrections communications department in Topeka late Friday afternoon.
The Tiller & Toiler was informed by local LCMHF communications after the passage of press time Thursday that a statement regarding changes at LCMHF was being drafted by Topeka communications with intent to provide a release as early as 4 p.m. Friday afternoon; however, pending department approval may not be available until the following Monday.
The release would officially confirm what LCHMF employees have known and some members of the Larned community have suspected for months, that LCMHF’s 150 maximum-security inmates incarcerated with severe and persistent mental issues — such as personality or conduct disorders — will be transferred to El Dorado Correctional Facility.
In exchange, LCMHF will receive approximately 300 medium-custody younger offenders currently in the state’s corrections system, to be double-bunked there.
Additionally, mental health treatment services, performed by trained mental health professionals at LCMHF, will also be transferred to the El Dorado facility and the professionals seeking continued employment in that capacity also transferred.
Corizon Health, which contracts with KDOC to provide mental health professional staff and services at state facilities including LCMHF, informed its staff of health professionals and activity therapists at Larned within the past several weeks that their services in Larned would no longer be required; that those seeking continued employment in that capacity would be offered an opportunity to transfer to El Dorado; and that an opportunity to transfer to other employment at the Larned State Hospital is being considered.
Corizon – a correctional mental healthcare provider based in Brentwood, Tenn. – was originally awarded an 18-month contract to provide KDOC with services in October 2013. The contract was extended to 9-1/2 years effective Jan. 1, 2014. Nationwide, Corizon provides comprehensive medical dental, pharmaceutical and mental health services to 22 states, as well as Kansas’ approximately 10,000 offenders.
The transfer is expected to affect as many as 35-40 employees, either directly employed by LCMHF or by state contract. No increase of security staff to accommodate the inmate influx at LCMHF is expected.
Limited knowledge of the changeover among LCMHF staff began surfacing as a community discussion topic within the last two months. Administrative officials in Topeka and Larned, while acknowledging that changes were being made, refused to confirm details or supply a suspected timeline for the move, citing that several aspects of the transfer were still being worked out.
It is believed, however, that the changeover, which KDOC defends as necessary to accommodate an increase in offenders ranging in age from 18-25, stems from KDOC’s decision to rebuild the aging facility at Lansing.
KDOC Secretary Joe Norwood announced last January a plan to remove and replace two buildings at Lansing Correctional Facility – which has housed state offenders since 1863 – with updated construction. The new facility would also increase the state’s prison capacity by 207 inmates. Currently, the facility houses 2,374 with a capacity of 2,405. The DOC began exchanging medium security inmates at El Dorado with maximum security prisoners in Lansing as early as February, in anticipation of the project.
Additionally, the Kansas Legislature was informed by KDOC early in the current session of a plan to move Lansing inmates affected by construction expected to take 2-3 years, from the prison campus and double-
The House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee recommended that the Lansing lease-purchase project be included in the next budget cycle. The House Appropriations Committee gave tentative approval to the project in March.
However, DOC administration does not need official legislative approval to enter into lease-purchase agreements; the question answered by legislators would be to ensure funding for lease-purchase payments for the project estimated to cost between $130-$155 million.
“We’re a prison, now” – Meanwhile, staff at LCMHF are concerned that the move goes against the purpose for which the facility was created and currently operated.
LCMHF was built in response to a 1989 court order that directed the KDOC to meet the long-term needs of mentally-ill inmates, unable to function in the traditional correctional setting. Construction of the 150-bed facility began on the grounds of Larned State Hospital in 1991 with building dedication that December. The first inmates arrived on Jan. 22, 1992.
Some 115 beds are reserved for KDOC residential rehabilitation program offenders in the Isaac Ray Building on campus, originally built in 1995 to house the state’s sexual predators. The facility’s 288-bed West Unit provides facility support and community work programs for minimum-custody inmates, and also houses those admitted to the Chemical Dependency Recovery Program.
Mental health professionals at Larned were reluctant to speak on record, but indicated a collective fear that KDOC is exchanging a paradigm of treatment potential for a system of warehoused incarceration, for lack of proper funding.
Moreover, a shift from access in the mental health system to prison incarceration has increased the need for a qualified mental health component within DOC. Recently, KDOC has initiated steps to reduce solitary confinement – referred to by KDOC as “restrictive incarceration” — of inmates as part of a program shift spearheaded by Secretary Norwood.
Inmates at El Dorado – which holds the highest number of solitary prisoners — were informed in a memo Feb. 23 that the prison would be installing a second bunk to cells that once contained a single inmate.