JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers on Thursday questioned the timing of administrators’ response to claims of widespread harassment in state prisons, an issue that’s spurred outrage among some elected officials and led to a House review.
Outgoing Division of Adult Institutions Director Dave Dormire told lawmakers that he’s had “numerous” meetings with other officials about individual claims of discrimination and harassment of employees in state prisons. But he told lawmakers that it wasn’t until last summer that top administrators gathered to discuss the larger issue of complaints.
“I’ve got stacks and stacks and stacks of information and materials that this problem started 10, 15 (or) 20 years ago,” said Republican Rep. Jim Hansen, of Frankford. “And now we’re just getting all hands on deck?”
The agency fell under scrutiny after the Kansas City alternative weekly paper The Pitch reported prison worker claims of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other harassment by co-workers and retaliation by supervisors for speaking out. The newspaper reported the state spent more than $7.5 million on settlements and judgments between 2012 and 2016 related to the allegations.
Other Department of Corrections officials have said over the past five years there have been policy changes, including expanding reportable offenses in an attempt to bring more problems to light. Dormire said that’s caused an uptick in complaints.
He told lawmakers that growth in prisons has “created all sorts of bureaucracy and management issues.” He said training for supervisors is lacking and asked for patience as new Director Anne Precythe works to enact changes.
Dormire has weeks left at the agency. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported he’s retiring April 1.
Dormire also said there are policies in place to address claims of harassment and nepotism in hiring decisions. Rep. Kathie Conway, a St. Charles Republican, raised doubts about how effective those policies have been.
“A pattern has emerged where the people under you and the people under wardens have figured out how to circumvent the system,” Conway told Dormire. “And we’re failing people.”
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