TOPEKA – Poor management, high turnover and lax discipline led to injuries and sexual misconduct at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka, according to a scathing audit released this morning.
The problems have been ongoing for years, and very little has been done to better protect children who are sent to the correctional facility for a variety of offenses, the audit says.
“I find this not only quite alarming, but really embarrassing to the state,” said Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration immediately released a statement that ties the audits wide-ranging findings to the firings of the state’s two top Juvenile Justice Authority officials earlier this year.
Commissioner Curtis L. Whitten and Deputy Commissioner Dennis Casarona were fired abruptly and with little explanation in late March. Brownback administration officials declined at the time to elaborate on why the officials were fired.
Brownback explained more in his statement today.
“After a thorough review of the facilities by the state’s top corrections officer in February, we moved aggressively to make changes, including substantial personnel changes in the leadership team at JJA,” Brownback said in a news release.
Brownback, whose administration has tried to make a series of changes to JJA, said the audit highlights “a failed social services approach to juvenile justice in Kansas.”
The Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka is one of two juvenile correctional facilities in the state and it houses about 220 boys and 20 girls, mostly ages 15 to 18.
The audit says that poor supervision and security policies at the Topeka facility led to injuries, sexual misconduct and theft. It lays the blame on high turnover that is result of low wages and lax leadership.
JJA didn’t perform adequate background checks on employees, which allowed people with drug convictions to be hired. The agency didn’t provide sufficient training, and some officers were promoted without statutorily-required training.
“JJA and KJCC officials appear to have favored convenience and expedience over safety and security,” the audit says.
Teresa Williams, acting JJA commissioner, outlined a series of changes and new training aimed at resolving the long-standing problems.
“This report is inexcusable,” she said.
Williams said salary, policy and management issues will be addressed.
“JJA is committed to operating a better, safer, more transparent and a more accountable state agency,” she said in a letter in response to the audit.