A December 2016 news report by FOX 4 Problem Solvers in Kansas City, Kansas found that visitors at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth were sometimes unable to see their loved ones because the facility failed to accommodate their disabilities. Despite federal regulations requiring all government buildings, including prisons, to be accessible to people with disabilities, the chair lift used to take disabled visitors up the 47 steps that lead to the front door was almost always inoperable.
“Since August , I’ve been there 10 times and been turned away eight...,” said wheelchair-bound visitor Edwin Kunzler. “I’ve asked to speak with the warden’s secretary ... but they refuse to transfer me to her,” he added, saying prison staff told him they were not allowed to transfer complaints from visitors to the warden’s office.
There is another way to enter USP Leavenworth, FOX 4 found, but prison officials rarely let anyone use that entrance. Multiple complaints were filed with the Kansas Disability Rights Center over the lack of access for disabled visitors at the federal prison; FOX 4 cited examples from two other people who could not visit due to their disabilities.
After FOX 4 reporters were also denied entry to the facility, and facing public scrutiny, a prison spokesman announced the wheelchair lift would be fixed in early December 2016 and that USP Leavenworth was looking for a new contractor to keep the lift in working condition. The spokesman also insisted that disabled visitors are allowed to enter the facility through “other entry points,” though families said that was untrue.
“All we want is just the rights that everyone else has to be able to see our loved ones,” said Kunzler, whose son is serving a lengthy sentence. “I probably won’t be around when he gets out, so this is my only means of being able to see him.”
A Bureau of Prisons spokesman said in a statement that the agency understands the importance of family visitation “and is committed to meeting everyone’s needs.”
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