The Kansas state prison at Lansing is 150 years old.
It should be replaced with a completely new, modern prison.
Plans to do this are in the works, but they have faltered for several reasons.
• Some leading legislators oppose the lease-purchase deal proposed by the Department of Corrections. In this deal a large private company based in Nashville, Tenn., CoreCivic, would design, build and maintain — but not operate — the new prison. DOC estimates this would reduce the number of employees from 682 to 371.
• The Legislative Post Audit Committee has found this option more expensive than simply using state bonds to finance the estimated $300 million project. (An initial bond offering, however, attracted no bidders.)
• There is concern among legislators that DOC’s planning has not been comprehensive. The department should be consulting with the sentencing commission and mental health experts, which it has not, some lawmakers say.
• There is also concern that two of Governor Brownback’s former advisors, David Kensisnger and George Stafford, have been lobbying for CoreCivic. This concern has led to talk about requiring contractors who seek state work to sign up as lobbyists.
All of these concerns and objections should be taken seriously, and dealt with. If that takes time, so be it.
But in the end lawmakers, the governor and the department should move ahead with this project to completion. They should never abandon the idea of replacing Lansing prison with an entirely new facility.
That facility should have the most up-to-date features the state can afford. Those features should take into consideration the safety of guards and inmates, the efficiency of surveillance, the mental health needs of inmates and the convenience of visitors. All of these are standard features of modern prisons.