Ellsworth Correctional Facility celebrates 25 years of service to Kansas this summer, highlighted by a ceremony to be held Friday, when the Kansas Department of Corrections will recognize the contributions of all who have ever served at the facility.
“It will be our pleasure to celebrate the many great years of service at ECF with the staff of the facility and with the Ellsworth community,” said KDOC Secretary Ray Roberts. “So many people have contributed to the excellent work done at ECF over the years and, in turn, been blessed by the support of the community.”
The Kansas legislature approved the construction of a correctional facility at Ellsworth in 1986. But summer of 1988 is recognized as the opening of the facility because it was then that inmates were first brought in to assist with ECF’s construction, said KDOC Deputy Secretary Johnnie Goddard, who joined the staff of ECF in March 1988.
Warden Michael A. Nelson, who oversaw the construction phase, hosted Governor Mike Hayden and KDOC Secretary Steve Davies for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in June 1990. Nelson was then succeeded by Warden Robert L. Harrison.
Originally slated to house 96 minimum-custody inmates, ECF has passed through several phases and grown in size. It currently occupies a 68.6-acre site on the north edge of the community and employs 271 staff (235 state and 36 contract employees). Seven wardens have taken the helm at ECF including current Warden Dan Schnurr. At present, ECF can house up to 915 male inmates and operates on an annual budget of $14,438,876.
The goal of ECF’s inmate programs is to prepare inmates for a crime-free life after incarceration and to make Kansas communities safer. Among its many programs, ECF has received recognition for its service dog training program, the construction of cabins at state parks, and an ongoing program to refurbish bicycles and wheelchairs.
Private industry partnerships within the facility allow inmates to earn wages and gain marketable skills such as welding agricultural equipment. And the facility’s recently added minimum-security East Unit is designed to give inmates experience at jobs around the Ellsworth community.
Ellsworth and surrounding communities have returned the favor. The facility and supporters on the outside have formed a strong bond, due in large part to ECF’s Spiritual Life Center, which connects inmates with mentors and volunteers who lead spiritual and educational programs. The Spiritual Life Center, built in 2004 and funded entirely by private donations, provides a central hub for activity at the facility. The center offers religious programming of all faiths and links inmates to volunteers from Ellsworth and surrounding communities.
One of the most visible connections of ECF with the community is its annual dinner theater performed by inmates and attended by hundreds. Viewers of plays such as The Ransom of Red Chief, and Arsenic and Old Lace are warmly greeted by inmates who prepare and serve food, design and make sets and costumes, run the lights and sound, and perform with surprising skill.
1986 The Kansas Legislature approved construction of a correctional facility to house 96 minimum-custody youthful inmates convicted of non-violent crimes.
1987 Ellsworth is selected as the location to receive the new facility that will house 256 medium-custody inmates. The facility will be called the Ellsworth Correctional Work Facility (ECWF).
1987 Michael A. Nelson is named ECWF’s first Warden. (Additional administrative staff was added in 1988.)
1988 The word “Work” is removed from the title of the facility.
1988 The first inmates were transferred to ECF to help with construction of the facility.
1988 The Kansas Legislature approved an expansion of the original project to provide housing for 516 multi-custody inmates.
1990 Governor Mike Hayden and KDOC Secretary Steve Davies dedicated the facility at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 5.
1994 For two years, the facility housed parole condition violators, conditional release violators and post-release supervision violators KDOC wanted to house separately from the general prison population.
2004 ECF’s Spiritual Life Center was constructed entirely with private donations to provide religious programs to inmates.
2006 Then-Senator Sam Brownback, contemplating a presidential run in 2008, spent the night at ECF and met with inmates on May 31.
2012 In the fall, a minimum-security unit (ECF East Unit) opened in the southeast corner of Ellsworth, housing 95 inmates, increasing the total operating capacity at the ECF Central and East Units to 915.
ECF Wardens: Dan Schnurr (2011-Present); Johnnie Goddard (2007-2011); Sam Cline (2003-2007); Raymond N. Roberts (1999-2003); L.E. Bruce (1992-1999); Robert L. Harrison (1990-1992); Michael A. Nelson(1987-1990)