The latest in a series of House committee hearings on the Missouri prison scandal took place Thursday morning. A system wide culture of discrimination, abuse and retaliation at the Department of Corrections was exposed last November.
Among the complaints lodged against agency by two current employees Thursday; rampant nepotism, vaguely constructed rules and poor procedures for awarding promotions.
Jordon Carpenter, who’s a low ranking corrections officer at the state’s prison in Moberly, said leadership at the facility is compromised by unrestrained nepotism.
“Obvious problems with this” Carpenter said. “If you have a problem with your sergeant, it’s kind of hard to go to any higher authority when that higher authority happens to be their brother, wife, husband, father, whatever the case may be.”
Carpenter said the Moberly prison has had both husband-wife and father-son captain and sergeant teams, as well as three brothers working the same shift holding the rank of captain, lieutenant and sergeant.
He said he understood the Moberly facility to be the black sheep of the state’s correctional system.
Another low ranking corrections officer at the Moberly prison, Daniel Holtzcraw, claimed the wrong employees often end up getting promotions. He mentioned an episode where a corrections officer was stabbed by an inmate. A higher ranking “functioning unit manager” (FUM) was aware of the incident, but did nothing about it. “That FUM is now a warden” said Holtzcraw.
Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) chairs the panel that held the hearing – the Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct – which was formed after it become widely known that the state doled out millions of dollars to settle employee lawsuits.
He was most disturbed Thursday by hearing how policies and procedures persistently change from shift to shift, depending on the leaders in charge.
“The people under the leadership has to constantly change on how they operate because they got a new leader on this shift” said Hansen. “That’s got to change. We’ve got to have consistency. The majors, the captains, lieutenants, sergeants all have to be on the same page, so the employee under them can be on the same page.”
Committee member Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) said her biggest takeaway from the latest hearing is that the department has a poorly defined chain of command.
“You have to know whose order you obey, because that person is responsible for not only your safety, your other officers’ safety, but the safety of those prisoners” Conway said. “They preach chain of command, but they don’t practice chain of command. Or if they do, it’s very flimsy and very fluid.”
Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), who formed the committee along with House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), sat in on Thursday’s hearing. He said the prison system is faced with a “people problem”.
“Time after time, this committee has heard people say ‘Well, we need to do this, we need to teach them this, we need to do this’” said Fitzwater. “But if we don’t have staff who are in charge of them, enforcing what they’re supposed to do, then we’re going to get nowhere.”
The two employees also noted that prison wardens regularly deviate from Department of Corrections policies by establishing their own “standard operating procedures”.
Committee chairman Hansen said he would be recommending guidelines when wardens take such actions. “For him (the warden) to implement that, he has to have the approval of the director of the department.”
Hansen said the panel will now draft recommendations on how to improve operation within the agency. It’ll also hold a final hearing with new department director Anne Precythe in the next couple of weeks.
In its nine hearings thus far, the committee has heard testimony from 14 current and former employees.