In 1859, the Kansas legislature passed an act authorizing a state penitentiary,the Kansas State Penitentiary (KSP), to be located in Leavenworth County. On November 18, 1861, a tract of 40 acres on Seven Mile Creek was purchased for $600 from Almira Budlong. John P. Mitchell served as the first warden of the facility beginning in 1862. In 1863, the legislature adopted guidelines for the operation of a state prison. Three directors were appointed to oversee the institution: William Dunlap, John Wilson and S.S. Lundum. The directors toured the eastern states to learn about penal facilities. They visited Joliet, Illinois, where a prison was nearing completion. They found the Joliet prison to their liking and decided that it would be the model for the Kansas penitentiary.
It had been recommended that the construction be accomplished with prisoner labor, and in the summer of 1864 work began on the north wing of the institution, near the site of what was known as the Oklahoma Jail. The Civil War was blamed for construction delays and it was not until 1867 that the main building was completed. A dining hall was finished in 1872. Previously, convicted felons were housed in various jails. With the completion of the north wing, the Kansas prison began accepting inmates. The first prisoners were transferred to the prison in July, 1868. By 1875, there were 379 prisoners confined, 30 of whom were serving federal sentences. Watching over these prisoners was a guard force of 26 men. The prison was also used to house inmates from Oklahoma until 1909.
A history of Lansing published by the Lansing Historical Society stated "the need to keep inmates occupied caused the state to sink a coal shaft in 1881. The coal supplied not only the prison, but all other state institutions. The need to transport that coal brought in the railroads and the area around the prison became a railway crossroads. Houses and businesses were erected to provide homes and support for both industries. The area was called the Town of Progress. Some of the churches and businesses moved into the quickly growing Progress from Delaware City. The prison mine employed several hundred convicts and the mine produced as much as 10,000 bushels of coal a day. A summary of activity during the month of January, 1882, stated more that 59,000 bushels of coal were taken from the prison mine, for an average output of about 2,560 bushels daily. The coal was sold for eight cents a bushel. Operation of the coal mine and twine manufacturing were discontinued in 1947 due to high operating costs and low demand for the products. In addition to coal mining and twine manufacturing, at various times state prisoners have been employed manufacturing bricks, soap, paint, furniture and license plates for Kansas motor vehicles. In 1911, the penitentiary announced the opening of a "tinker shop" inside the walls, where visitors were admitted to see and purchase various craft items made by inmates. Most of the items produced by inmates were sold by the state with the proceeds going into the prison fund. "In this unique workshop are combined broom factory, tobacco factory, walking stick factory and harness factory," officials said. "In the woodworking departments especially, the finest pieces of work are turned out by men who know not the use of modern machinery. A sharp knife, a chisel and a piece of sandpaper are the implements with which they work." Examples of wood-carving included furniture with more than 2,000 pieces of inlaid wood, and a dainty pin cushion in the shape of a lady's slipper. The cushion was placed in the top of the wooden shoe which was delicately carved to include even the detail of the shoe's stitches. A fine walking stick was also made in the tinker shop. It had a steel rod around which was wrapped paper or leather.
The prison broom factory was also located in the tinker shop. Prisoners manufactured a conventional sweeping broom and a fancy whiskbroom made in different colors. Sisal used in the whiskbrooms was shipped from Mexico and used in great quantities in the prison twine plant. Straw for the ordinary brooms was grown on the prison farm. In the early part of the century, state prisoners were not permitted to smoke tobacco in any form, but officials allowed inmates to use chewing tobacco, which was obtained from Virginia and made into "plugs" in the tinker shop. Starting in 1885, inmates worked on the prison farm. In addition to raising crops the prison also had a dairy herd, poultry and hog farm. By 1961 the prison farm covered over 2,000 acres, 1570 of which were in cultivation. Penitentiary farm operations were discontinued in 1975, but later resumed on a reduced basis and presently consists primarily of cattle and hog raising.
In 1875, life behind the 80 foot high stone walls at Lansing was termed a dreary monotony. Discipline at the institution was rigid, and rules regarding officials, correction officers and prisoners were strictly adhered to. Corrections officers were obliged to be on duty every day, except for one Sunday in every five, which they were given off. Prisoners were governed by what was known as the "silent system," meaning that they were not allowed to converse with each other under any circumstances. The "silent system" had been widely adopted in prisons throughout the United States at that time. For a period of time in the spring of 1896, the state penitentiary closed its gates announcing it had temporarily stopped admitting prisoners. The situation arose from a widespread alarm over the spread of small pox in Kansas. Under the order issued by Secretary Thomas Kirkpatrick of the State Board of Health, upon the request of Warden J.B. Lynch, the penitentiary was quarantined against the admission of prisoners from counties in which small pox had been reported, including Shawnee and Wyandotte Counties. Warden Lynch said the quarantine, which had the approval of the governor's office, would be lifted as soon as all danger from small pox infection had passed.
The Kansas Correctional Institute - Lansing (KCIL) for Women was established in 1917 and operated as a satellite unit of KSP. In 1980, the facility became co-correctional and in 1983, the name was changed to Kansas Correctional Institution at Lansing. In 1988, the minimum and medium custody female inmates were transferred to the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF). The maximum custody females were transferred in April, 1995 to TCF. The facility is currently designated as Lansing Correctional Facility - East Unit and is a minimum custody facility for male felons. With the passage of time, the strict regimen of the 19th century gradually gave way to more humane treatment of prisoners. In 1971, Dr. Karl Menninger of Topeka, advisor to the governor on state prisons, inspected the Lansing institution. Among changes he noted favorably was the introduction of television in the cellblocks. In 1985, a medium security unit was constructed and began operating adjacent to the original wall of the maximum security compound. This complex is designated as the Lansing Correctional Facility - Central Unit.
The Osawatomie Correctional Facility was established in September, 1987 as an 80-bed minimum security facility on the grounds of the Osawatomie State Hospital. A single building which had been vacated by the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services was converted for the used by the Kansas Department of Corrections to provide for community service work programs for state and local government agencies and as a parole pre-revocation program.(Closed in 2009)
In May 1990, the administration of Kansas State Penitentiary and the Kansas Correctional Institution at Lansing were consolidated to form the Lansing Correctional Facility (LCF), which is the State's largest facility for detention and rehabilitation of male adult felony offenders. The following June, the Osawatomie Correctional Facility was consolidated administratively with the Lansing Correctional Facility. Accreditation was awarded to LCF in 1991 by the American Correctional Association. In May 1993, LCF became the oldest adult correctional facility to receive 100% in an American Correctional Association accreditation audit. LCF duplicated this perfect score in May 1996.