Former guards speak out on ongoing safety, staffing problems at Lansing prison

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LANSING, Kan. — After two guards were attacked, Lansing Correctional Facility has banned visitation and is keeping some inmates confined mostly to their cells.

“It’s the inmates who run the prison and I fear for the guards who still work there.”

Chilling words from a former guard at Lansing Correctional Facility who said she fears for the safety of the guards who still work there.

Stacia Gruber said she still has nightmares about her time working at the prison four years ago. One day, she said, 50 male inmates surrounded her and threatened to harm her.

“They were going to rip out my tongue and shove it through my eye sockets,” she said.

Gruber pressed her panic button repeatedly. It took six minutes for help to arrive.

“I pleaded put me somewhere where I’m not going to be put with them,” Gruber said.

She requested help from everyone from her direct supervisor, to the warden, to her union.

“The next thing I know, I’ being put in a cell pod that has nothing but those gang members,” Gruber said. “I’m left alone.”

One female guard in charge of 130 men. She said the final straw came when the men showed her a photo of her young children and told her to quit or else. She said she did, but the Kansas Department of Corrections disputed that, telling FOX4 she was fired but could not provide details as to why.

However her job ended, Gruber’s concerns about violence at Lansing proved prescient. Just last month two guards were attacked by inmates. Another former guard, who quit right before the two attacks, said she feared for her safety nearly every day.

“If you are the only officer making the rounds and all these inmates come hovering around we don’t have a panic button anymore,” said Mirela Green who quit working at the facility this year.

She said her only way of alerting anyone if an inmate were to attack her was a radio, one she might not be able to reach in time.

“It doesn’t matter if they are in maximum, medium or minimum any officer can be attacked in any part of that prison,” said Green who worked at the prison for eight months.

She said she was also assigned to guard more than 100 men by herself. The job, she said, became increasingly intolerable as more guards quit and the prison instituted a 12-hour work day to make sure enough staff was on duty.

That made matters worse.

“When the 12-hour shifts started a lot more officers were leaving,” Green said.

This month the prison reported more than 80 open positions. The guards still employed at Lansing are overworked and overwrought.

They are  “being worn out,” Green said. “The inmates can feel that on us. They can read us really well. 
 I fear for the rest of the officers because I think the inmates are going to take over.”

She said the inmates have started to hoard food and are placing their blankets over their cell windows – two signs that more serious problems could be coming.

The Kansas Department of Corrections has acknowledged the staffing problems at the prison. In response it said in a news release that it has temporarily increased guard pay, banned visitation and locked down medium and maximum housing units from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. But FOX4 was told by sources that many of those units are still open – only a few areas have been locked down.

The union representing corrections officers, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, disputed accusations that it wasn’t doing enough to help guards working under dangerous conditions. It said in a statement “We recognize that the work our corrections officers do in state prisons like Lansing Correctional Facility is challenging, stressful, and potentially dangerous. We are fully committed to the safety and well-being of all of the workers we represent, including the state workers at LCF. Last month, when two officers were attacked by inmates at LCF, we moved quickly to alert the Governor’s office and the media, shedding further light on the long-standing issues of understaffing at state correctional facilities. We have fought and will continue to fight tirelessly for every worker our union represents. This includes working with Governor Kelly in securing much-needed raises for workers in 24-hour state facilities, obtaining safety equipment for all corrections security staff, and successfully negotiating better overtime policies for Corrections Officers.”

Among the objectives is “securing much-needed raises for workers in 24-hour state facilities, obtaining safety equipment and successfully negotiating better overtime policies.”

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