Parents of Leavenworth prisoners frustrated because they’re unable to visit their children

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LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- Edward Kunzler thumbed through photo albums looking for pictures of his only son. Photos are often the only way he can see his son who has been behind bars at the federal prison in Leavenworth since August. Visiting him isn't easy.

"Since August I've been there 10 times and have been turned away eight out of 10 times," Kunzler said.

Kunzler is in a wheelchair. The chair lift that the prison uses to take disabled visitors up the 47 steps to the front door is almost always broken.

"I've asked to speak to the warden's secretary to find out if there is anything I can do to help in getting a visit with my son, they refuse to even transfer me to her," Kunzler said. "They say they've been told not to transfer any complaints about the lift to the warden's secretary. That really hit me hard because it is like they don't care."

It's a story FOX 4 Problem Solvers has heard multiple times from aging or disabled parents of inmates, including 84-year-old Marie Garrett. She hasn't been able to visit her son for more than five months.

"My knees, my knees," said Garrett who relies on oxygen and a cane to take even a single step. " If I had some good knees, think I'd be fine."

Then there's Kathy Beddow, who also struggles with both breathing and walking problems. She said her complaints to the prison have been ignored.

"When you stop and think about it they are punishing the parents," Beddow said.

They are parents whose only crime is wanting to stay in touch with their children. Kunzler said his son is serving a seven-year sentence for selling drugs.

"Like I said, I don't condone what he's done, but I won't turn my back on him because he's still my flesh and blood and I love him and want to see him as much as I can," he said.

A disability expert tells FOX 4 Problem Solvers that every government building has to be accessible to the disabled, including prisons. Families told us they asked to be given an alternative way to enter the prison that doesn't involve stairs. Although an alternative entry exists, they are rarely allowed to use it. Many have filed complaints with the Kansas Disability Rights Center. They tell us the Center has promised to look into the problem, but so far nothing has changed.

FOX 4 Problem Solvers tried to visit Leavenworth, but weren't allowed inside. A prison spokesman later told us the prison plans to have the wheelchair lift repaired on Friday.

The spokesman also said the prison is looking for a new contractor to keep the lift in working order. He insisted, however, that people with disabilities are allowed to enter the prison through "other entry points." Our families say that rarely happens. The majority of times an alternative entry is denied.

"All we want is just the rights that everyone else has to be able to see our loved ones," said Kunzler, who is hopeful that the prison will start accommodating the needs of the disabled.

"I know he has a lot of time to do and I probably won't even be around when he gets out, so this is my only means of being able to see him."