The chairman of a newly-formed House committee investigating the Missouri Department of Corrections describes documents he’s reviewed as “disgusting.”
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee Chairman Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) have formed the House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct.
The subcommittee was created on Wednesday, after a scathing November investigative series in the “Kansas City Pitch”.
The newspaper reviewed trial transcripts and depositions from Corrections employees, which painted a picture of repeated sexual comments and pressure from supervisors and co-workers to have sex.
State Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) will lead the new subcommittee. He reviewed graphic documents in his Capitol office on Wednesday, before being interviewed by Missourinet.
“You couldn’t make this up,” says Hansen. “It’s disgusting, that’s all I’ll say, it’s very disgusting that this has happened to employees in the state of Missouri to have to work in this kind of hostile work environment.”
Hansen says he would “welcome the authority” to use subpoenas in the committee’s investigation into the state Department of Corrections.
“We’re not there yet, but I would, if we could have that authority, I would welcome that authority. I don’t make that decision,” Hansen says.
Missourinet asked Hansen who makes that subpoena decision.
“The Speaker (Todd Richardson) would probably request that, or I don’t know if the Attorney General (Josh Hawley) would have to probably authorize that for us,” says Hansen.
The “Pitch” newspaper obtained lawsuits and court documents showing that male employees and supervisors in some prisons commonly refer to female employees as “bitches” and “whores”.
The newspaper also reports some supervisors at prisons within the DOC have dangled promises of good evaluations and advancements, in exchange for sexual favors.
Hansen says the committee will make recommendations on policies and procedures, and says “significant changes” must be made in the culture at the Missouri Department of Corrections.
He met for an hour Tuesday with new Department Director Anne Precythe. Hansen praises her, describing her as “zero tolerance”. He predicts major changes at the DOC.
Hansen tells Missourinet that the state’s “underpaid” corrections employees deserve a safe and professional work environment.
“These (policies and procedures) have to be followed, supervisors have to report these things when they see them,” Hansen says. “Action has to be taken and investigations have to be held, and they have to be resolved. They can’t be swept under the rug.”
Hansen says he and other lawmakers found out that Missouri has paid out millions to settle lawsuits when they read about it in the “Pitch”. The series showed that Missouri paid $7 million in the past four years, to settle lawsuits brought by DOC employees who say they were victims of harassment and retaliation.
Hansen says the subcommittee’s first hearing has not been scheduled yet.
Meantime, Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) says the DOC will testify before his committee on February 13.
The Committee will be reviewing the Department’s budget that day. Fitzpatrick tells Missourinet the “Pitch” investigation will be a part of the hearing.