Kansas Prison Population, Capacity, and Related Facility Issues

Historically, the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) and state policymakers have had to address the issue of providing adequate correctional capacity for steady and prolonged growth in the inmate population. In 2020, however, the inmate population experienced a significant decrease, primarily due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the trend of growth is projected to resume. Currently, KDOC administers eight adult correctional facilities identified in the table below.

FacilityYear OpenedCapacity as of FY 2020
El Dorado Correctional Facility19912,068
Ellsworth Correctional Facility1987899
Hutchinson Correctional Facility18951,918
Lansing Correctional Facility18632,432
Larned Correctional Mental Heatlh Facility1996598
Norton Correctional Facility1987977
Topeka Correctional Facility1961948
Winfield Correctional Facility1984978

In 1863, the Kansas State Penitentiary, later known as Lansing Correctional Facility (Lansing CF), opened as Kansas’ first correctional facility. The State gained control of its second correctional facility in 1911 when the Board of Penal Institutions took control of the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory, later known as Hutchinson Correctional Facility (Hutchinson CF), which had originally opened in 1895. In 1961, the State opened the Kansas State Reception and Diagnostic Center, followed by the Kansas Correctional Vocational Training Center in 1972. These two facilities were combined in 1990 to create the Topeka Correctional Facility.

In the 1980s, capacity at the correctional facilities did not keep pace with populations, which led to the Legislature establishing Winfield Correctional Facility (Winfield CF) in 1984 and Ellsworth, Norton, Osawatomie, and Stockton Correctional Facilities in 1987. A 1989 federal court order limited inmate populations at Lansing and Hutchinson and required improved conditions for inmates with mental health issues.

The direct result of this order was construction of the El Dorado Correctional Facility (El Dorado CF) in 1991. The court order was terminated in 1996 following numerous changes to the correctional system, including the construction of Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility (Larned CMHF).

Budget reductions in fiscal year (FY) 2009 prompted KDOC to suspend operations at three smaller minimum-custody facilities (Osawatomie, Stockton, and Toronto) and close conservation camps in Labette County.

Additionally, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services took control of the Osawatomie facility. Due to the increasing inmate population, the 2010 Legislature included a State General Fund appropriation for FY 2011, which allowed the reopening of Stockton Correctional Facility as a satellite unit of Norton Correctional Facility on September 1, 2010. Larned CMHF traditionally provided mental health services to inmates in need, but in May 2017, KDOC announced its intention to convert Larned CMHF into a prison for 18- to 25-year-old inmates. Inmates receiving mental health services were moved to El Dorado CF, which now serves as the system’s primary mental health facility with 192 high-acuity behavioral beds.

Capacity Utilization Rate for Kansas Correctional Facilities line graph
Total Inmate Capacity and Average Daily Population line graph.

Calculating Capacity; Illustrations

KDOC calculates the capacity utilization rate by dividing the average daily population (ADP) by total capacity in order to analyze the percentage of beds that are in use on an average day during a given fiscal year. In the past ten years, ADP rose steadily until FY 2020, and total capacity generally followed a similar trend. The capacity utilization rate saw a peak of 100.6 percent in both FY 2015 and FY 2016, which was then followed by a decrease to 93.0 percent in FY 2017. This 7.6 percent decline was due to the expansion of 800 double-bunked cells at El Dorado CF, Larned CMHF, and Norton Correctional Facility during FY 2017. However, the double bunking did not continue to the end of FY 2018, when the total capacity fell by 519 beds from its highest point in FY 2017. On August 31, 2020, the ADP in FY 2020 was 9,907 inmates, and the capacity utilization rate was 91.5 percent, which are decreases from FY 2019 of 162 inmates and 9.4 percent. The decreased capacity utilization rate is partially related to increased capacity resulting from the opening of new units at Lansing CF, but also because of the establishment of temporary COVID-19 isolation sites at various facilities.

KDOC has a limited number of prison beds that are not counted in the official capacity, such as infirmary beds, which allows the population to exceed the official capacity. The August 31, 2020, inmate ADP included 183 inmates held in non-KDOC facilities, which were primarily county jails and Larned State Hospital.

Actual and Projected Populations

The FY 2021 prison population projections released by the Kansas Sentencing Commission (KSC) anticipate the inmate population will be 1,179 less than the total capacity by the end of FY 2020 and will remain below capacity by 784 inmates by the end of FY 2030.

In addition to total capacity, gender and custody classifications are tracked by KDOC. Issues with inadequate capacity are more common among the higher custody levels of inmates. This is due to the fact that higher custody level inmates cannot be placed in a lower custody level cell (e.g., maximum security inmates cannot be placed in medium or minimum security cells). That is not the case for the lower custody level inmates, who can be placed in higher custody level cells. In addition, capacity in all-male or all-female facilities is not available for housing inmates of the opposite gender. The Population by Gender and Custody Classification chart on the following page displays the total inmate population by gender and custody classification for FY 2020, as of August 31, 2020.

Actual and Projected Inmate Population bar chart

The FY 2021 prison population projections released by the KSC anticipate the male inmate population will be under capacity by 1,016 inmates in FY 2020, but will increase for every year in its ten-year projection, when there will be 8,807 inmates, or 613 below capacity, in FY 2030.

The FY 2021 prison population projections show the female inmate population remaining below capacity by 165 inmates in FY 2020. The KSC projects that over ten years, the female population will steadily decrease to 738 in 2024, then increase to 777, or 171 below capacity, in FY 2030.

Population by Gender and Custody Classification as of August 31, 2020 bar chart.

Consequences of Operating Close to Capacity

According to KDOC, the consequences of operating close to capacity include:

  • Excessive inmate movement;
  • More emergencies and separate inmates with conflicts (e.g., gangs, grudges);
  • Greater reliance on segregation and contract jail beds; and
  • Inability to keep inmates near their families, which creates more problematic releases.

Increasing Capacity through New Construction

During the 2017 Legislative Session, KDOC brought plans before the Legislature to demolish an existing medium-security unit at Lansing CF and construct a new facility in its place. KDOC asserted the new facility will reduce the need for staff, generating savings over time. On November 30, 2020, the agency indicated that due to adjusted staffing requirements, savings would be $4.5 million less than projected.

Provisions in 2017 Senate Sub. for HB 2002 allow KDOC to enter into a lease-purchase agreement for the demolition, design, and construction of a new facility at Lansing CF or, if more cost effective, allow the agency to bond with the Kansas Development Finance Authority to demolish, design, and construct a correctional institution at Lansing CF, capping expenditures related to the project at $155.0 million. The provisions also require the Secretary of Corrections to advise and consult the State Building Advisory Commission for the use of an alternative project delivery procurement process and require KDOC to appear before the State Finance Council for approval of the decision.

On January 24, 2018, the State Finance Council approved a lease-to-own plan in which a private company would build the 2,432-bed facility, and the State would purchase the facility through a 20-year lease for a total of $362.0 million. Construction of the two units began in April 2018 and inmates were occupying the new minimum security unit by December 2019. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans to migrate to the new medium/maximum security unit were accelerated due to facility’s public health advantages of individualized cells, modern air circulation systems, and infirmary. Inmate occupation of the new medium/maximum security unit was completed in April 2020.
The 2020 Legislature included State General Fund appropriations of $6.1 million in FY 2020 and $7.2 million for FY 2021 for expansion projects at Lansing CF and Winfield CF. The recently closed X Unit site at Lansing CF would be converted to 200-bed substance abuse treatment center, and the former Funston and Triplett buildings, on the grounds of the nearby Kansas Veterans’ Home, would be converted to a 241-bed nursing care facility at Winfield CF for elderly adult male inmates.

Inmate Outsourcing

In order to reduce inmate overcrowding and eliminate mandatory 12-hour staff shifts at El Dorado CF, KDOC has contracted 130 beds in county jails.

KDOC also submitted a request for proposal at the end of March 2019 regarding out-of-state beds. In August 2019, the agency entered into a contract with CoreCivic for the use of medium and maximum security beds and related services at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona. This is a one-year contract with two one-year renewal options. There were 240 beds available in August 2019, with an additional 120 beds available by December 2019, at a cost of $74.76 per inmate per day. As of December 3, 2020, there were 118 inmates housed at the Arizona facility. On December 16, 2020, KDOC officials indicated that all inmates had been returned to Kansas.
KDOC’s inmate cost per day was $72.35 in FY 2018. The 2018 Legislature passed SB 328, which requires prior legislative authorization if any agency wants to outsource the security operations of any state-run correctional facility. The bill further defined security operations as the supervision of inmates at a correctional facility by a correctional officer or warden.

Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the vulnerable nature of a congregated inmate population, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on the Kansas correctional system. On March 31, 2020, the first staff member with COVID-19 was reported at Lansing CF, followed shortly by an inmate on April 4, 2020. As of December 10, 2020, over 6,000 cases of COVID-19 have occurred among staff and inmates, with 14 resulting in fatality. Outbreaks occurred at all eight facilities, which led the establishment of temporary isolation sites at El Dorado CF, Hutchinson CF, and Winfield CF, suspension of operations at the Wichita Work Release Program, and temporary reactiviation of the former Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, as well as delays in expansion projects at Lansing CF and Winfield CF. Public health mitigation measures involved limiting the use of dormitory-style units, face mask protocols, and implementation of a systemwide COVID-19 testing regime.

Early in the pandemic, staff capacity approached exhaustion as increasing cases required isolation. Members of the Kansas National Guard were activated to provide medical and logistical support. By December 4, 2020, the virus reached Kansas inmates housed at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, where a majority tested positive.
The pandemic resulted in a significant unforeseen decrease to the inmate population, both male and female. This is primarily attributed to a decrease in new admissions to the correctional system resulting from a delay in court proceedings that occurred in response to the pandemic.

Murl Riedel, Fiscal Analyst

Robert Gallimore, Managing Research Analyst