Some state House members will investigate next session allegations of harassment and retaliation within the state’s 21 prisons. House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) says he will form a committee to look into the allegations after a scathing article on Pitch.com reports that several corrections employees have been victimized and even threatened based on sex, age, religion, or physical ability. In an interview, Richardson says the behavior is unacceptable.
“They’re unacceptable for our state. They ought to be unacceptable in any workplace environment,” says Richardson. “They’re doubly concerning here in Missouri because it’s leading to a huge budget impact. The cost to the state to have to settle these claims has been significant.”
The newspaper’s investigation says that between 2012 and 2016, settlements with employees or former employees making the allegations cost the state more than $7.5 million.
The line in the state budget from which money for settlements with the state comes does not have a limited dollar amount. Rather, it has an “E” at the end of that line, which stands for an estimated amount. That allows for additional money to be used on an as-needed basis.
Richardson says the House would take up a “very thorough review,” of what’s been happening at the Department.
“That will involve our budget committees but it’s also going to involve our policy committees, so we can get to the bottom of what’s going on and most importantly – how do we make the environment better than it is today,” says Richardson.
Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) chairs the House committee that’s involved in the Department of Corrections’ budget. She said the reports of harassment did not come up in her committee, even though sizable settlements have occurred.
“That is a personnel matter, and other than how many employees they have or need or have positions to fill, as far as budget goes that’s the only personnel issues we become involved with,” says Conway.
In a statement from House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City), she says the department kept lawmakers and the public in the dark. Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) also praises Richardson for having lawmakers look into the matter.
Richardson said details about how the investigation will move forward will be known in the coming weeks.