Staff allege violence, sex abuse at Kansas' juvenile prison

Published: Dec. 25, 2018 at 4:05 PM CST
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Allegations of violence between staff members and sexual relationships between workers and underage inmates at Kansas' only juvenile corrections facility were uncovered during a state audit prompted by allegations that a former superintendent of the center assaulted an employee.

Auditors sought to contact 229 former and current employees of the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka but only 48 responded. Of those, seven people reported being attacked or assaulted by other staff. Auditors also received three reports of sexual relationships between staff and youth at the facility, according to Kansas News Service .

Other comments alleged staff removed residents from solitary confinement when auditors visited.

Staff at the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit said that the number of responses was too low to draw definitive conclusions but that the comments were still concerning. All the comments were anonymous and could not be verified.

"The responses do provide some insight into the culture at the facility," wrote Legislative Post Auditor Justin Stowe in the report.

Kansas state Sen. Anthony Hensley and state Rep. John Alcala sought the audit after a center employee reported in 2017 that then-superintendent Kyle Rohr assaulted her. Rohr was convicted of battery in July for grabbing an accountant's arm after she failed to gather enough volunteers for a Christmas party. Rohr resigned following the conviction.

"No one should have to be working in that type of environment," Alcala said. "Physical contact, from staff to staff, employee to employee, should be zero tolerance."

When the audit was conducted in July, 171 residents ages 13 to 21 lived at the complex, which provides maximum- and medium-security detention for young people convicted of charges that would be felonies if they were adults.

In 2012, auditors found issues of management, safety, training and staff discipline at the center. Another audit in 2015 found some of the problems were resolved, while others, such as outdated policies and inadequate supervision of youth at the facility, were not adequately addressed.

This year's audit provided mixed results. Six respondents agreed with the statement that "Employee morale at KJCC is high," while 23 employees disagreed. Sixteen respondents agreed that "Appropriate actions are taken when staff violate policies," while 21 disagreed. Twenty-three respondents agreed that they feel safe working at the facility and 12 disagreed.

Some respondents said they felt intimidated or threatened by co-workers or management and some feared retaliation from peers or management.

The audit also received multiple comments about a "pervasive 'boys' club' mentality" that gives preferential treatment to favored staff and encourages others to quit, and lenient treatment of residents that puts staff in danger.

"When you have a number of people saying similar things, or saying the same thing on a survey, that lends some gravity to what they're saying," said Andy Brienzo, who conducted the audit.

Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Samir Arif declined to comment on personnel matters. He said allegations of sexual assault are investigated according to guidelines set by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

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