Rep. Linda Black, a Democrat, represents St. Francois County, where sexually violent criminals are housed in Farmington. She says assaults in that corrections facility are a problem. Black is sponsoring a bill she hopes would deter assaults on state employees who work in Farmington and in the Biggs facility at the State Mental Hospital in Fulton.

Her bill would make assaults in the Farmington and Fulton prisons a Class B felony, punishable by five to fifteen years added to their current sentence. Sex offenders are held in Farmington, mentally ill inmates are housed in Fulton. She stresses the change would only affect those two facilities.

Rep. Rory Ellinger of University City, also a Democrat, says the punishment should fit the crime, and a Class B felony is a strong charge for a shove or a punch, which is legally classified as an assault. Black says she’ll work with the Department of Mental Health to see if lowering the charge to a Class C felony, or to create a tiered system that deals with a variety of assault crimes, would be appropriate.

She says right now such assaults are misdemeanors, tying the hands of prosecutors and victims of attacks. Black says state employees who work at the correctional facility in Farmington came to her asking for help because they felt the problem was getting out of control. Ellinger agrees that if that’s the case, something needs to be done to ensure the safety of state employees who work with sexually violent and mentally ill inmates.

AUDIO: Jessica Machetta reports (1:25)