Basehor history tied to prison
Historical society learns more about Lansing Correctional Facility’s 150-year past
One of the most interesting and lucrative institutions in Leavenworth County is also home to more than 2,000 criminals.
For almost 150 years, the Lansing Correctional Facility has been a major resource for the city of Lansing. The Lansing Historical Museum teamed with the Kansas Humanities Council to film an 11-minute documentary on the history of the prison.
Laura Phillippi, site supervisor at the Lansing museum, came to the Basehor Historical Museum Saturday to show the film and tell visitors more about how the penitentiary began.
“The prison has a rich history,” Phillippi said. “It was originally a very grand building, and it was first known as the Kansas State Penitentiary.”
In 1859, the Kansas Legislature passed an act that authorized the Kansas State Penitentiary to be built in Leavenworth County. The 40-acre area of land for the building was purchased for $600 in 1861.
“Construction for the prison was delayed because of the Civil War,” Phillippi said. “The work didn’t pick up until 1864, and the first inmates were transferred into the building in July 1868.”
More than 370 prisoners were held in the prison by 1875, 30 of those serving federal sentences.
In the beginning, the prison was almost entirely self-sufficient. Cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens were raised on the land, and crops were harvested to supply food for staff and inmates.
The penitentiary was also a source of entertainment for Lansing and nearby city residents.
“The prison would have boxing matches and baseball games in which inmates played,” Phillippi said. “The public was always invited to attend, and those events were pretty popular.”
The prison also had a successful coal mine that produced as much as 10,000 bushels of coal each day to be sold for 8 cents a bushel and a twine plant that supplied the city with the bulk of its twine.
Today, the Lansing Correctional Facility still houses several business ventures, such as Impact Design, a private industry that embroiders garments and makes city signs.
Prisoners qualify to work at such trades and earn wages that go toward child support, restitution and 25 percent of room and board. The remainder is put into a mandatory savings account for the prisoner.
Private prison industries do not take jobs away from the general public, Phillippi said, because the organizations must prove that the jobs cannot be filled with people from the public. Businesses like these save Lansing a lot of money, Phillippi said.
“In 2008, prisoners contributed 114,084 hours for community projects, which saved the city more than $747,000,” she said.
The East Hill Singers is a successful group formed by a representative of Arts in Prisons Inc. Inmates in East Hill Singers perform at various locations, and Phillippi says that involvement in the group reduces inmates’ needs for discipline and helps to ensure that released prisoners do not return.
For more information about the Lansing Correctional Facility, visit its Web site at kansas.gov/lcf, or contact Laura Phillippi at the Lansing Historical Museum at (913) 250-0203.
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