The Four States NPR News Source
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KRPS 89.9 FM is operating at approximately 30% power due to transmitter issues. We are working to restore full 100,000-watt power at the site. The signal is clear within a 30-mile radius of Pittsburg, including Joplin, Parsons, and Fort Scott. Streaming continues regardless of transmitter issues. Download our app, ask your smart speaker to play 'NPR' and select 'KRPS' or stream us from this website.

Kansas prison fires 2 employees, disciplines 6 for mocking injured inmate and refusing to help

The Kansas prison system fired two employees and disciplined eight for mocking and refusing to help Topeka Correctional Facility inmate Elizabeth Wince after she injured herself.
Kansas Department of Corrections/Nomin Ujiyediin
The Kansas prison system fired two employees and disciplined eight for mocking and refusing to help Topeka Correctional Facility inmate Elizabeth Wince after she injured herself.

Inmate Elizabeth Wince had to crawl back to her cell after hurting herself and being denied medical care. Other prisoners at Topeka Correctional Facility told the Kansas News Service that prison staff insulted Wince instead of helping her.

TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas prison system has fired two employees and disciplined six others for mistreating an injured inmate last month.

According to inmates at the Topeka Correctional Facility, Elizabeth Wince spent two hours crawling back to her cell after hurting herself.

Wince fell and tried to seek medical treatment, but was denied. Days passed without help when she fell again and again went to the prison medical clinic. She was denied help a second time, but this time, she was unable to walk and had to crawl back to her cell, multiple inmates reported.

Prison staff allegedly called Wince “fat” and “lazy.” One officer allegedly patted her own knee and said, "Come on, you can do it,” while watching Wince crawl.

Officers and corrections staff believed Wince was faking the injury, according to inmates who saw what happened. It took 12 hours before Wince was taken to the hospital, and eyewitnesses say her foot was completely black by the time that happened.

It isn’t clear how serious Wince’s injuries are. The incident happened in early September, according to the prison. Wince did not return from the hospital for several weeks.

Messages to Wince from the Kansas News Service went unanswered. Prison medical contractor Centurion didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Kansas Department of Corrections spokesperson David Thompson said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening that the prison takes the allegations of mistreatment seriously.

“We are confident that these actions represent a temporary lapse in judgment for the handful of staff that were involved and do not reflect a systemic issue at TCF or the larger correctional system,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s statement added that prison staff will undergo training so “employees feel empowered to challenge and report any order — including from a superior officer — that they feel is illegal, immoral, or unethical.”

Since September, the Kansas News Service has spoken with a handful of inmates at Topeka Correctional Facility and read over complaints to prison officials. In those interviews, inmates painted a clear picture: Wince needed medical help and prison officials only mocked her.

Prisoners said it’s another example of poor prison medical care putting their lives in danger.

Years of complaints over treatment inside Kansas prisons

A photo of the sign outside of the Topeka prison
Nomin Ujiyediin
/
Kansas News Service
Elizabeth Wince fell and was denied medical treatment by staff at Topeka Correctional Facility, inmates said.

Within the Kansas criminal justice system, incarcerated people have long complained about prison medical care, but state officials say they don’t see it as a problem.

Centurion of Kansas is the current medical contractor for state prisons. Centurion replaced Corizon, an often-sued medical contractor that Kansas got rid of in hopes of improving quality of care.

However, Kansas inmates have said Centurion is just as bad as Corizon, and prison officials “will let someone die in here before they try to help.”

Centurion is regularly audited on a dozen performance metrics. A 2022 story by the Kansas News Service examined those reports. Between January 2021 and May 2022, the contractor was fined more than $900,000 — the result of just under 5,000 individual fines.

The audits keep data on a variety of performance goals, like how often medical staff respond to non-emergency sick calls or completing intake health assessments. Kansas prison medical care reached 0% compliance in certain categories nine times, and 50% or lower compliance more than 40 times, according to the 2022 review of audits.

When asked by reporters last year, the Kansas Department of Corrections stood behind Centurion, saying the company has seen a drop in fines for poor care and gets very few complaints about service.

“The employees and leadership of Centurion have demonstrated themselves to provide good customer service for both the department and our residents,” KDOC officials said. “They are responsive to feedback and have improved the quality of care provided for our residents.”

Prisoners who spoke with Kansas News Service disagree. Not only was Wince’s case mismanaged, prisoners say, but they were not allowed to help Wince as she struggled back to her cell — and if they did, they would be written up. That could mean going to max custody and losing visitation with family.

Some officers reportedly continued to berate inmates after the incident. According to multiple inmate complaints, staff called prisoners “bitches” and told them the mistreatment didn’t matter because people would “die in here.” Those inmates were not serving life sentences.

“Was that intended as a threat?” read one inmate complaint to prison officials.

Officers also reportedly bragged that their union would protect them from discipline. The Kansas Organization of State Employees, the union representing prison officers, declined to comment.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Blaise Mesa is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Beacon. He previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service.