The head of the state corrections department admits an investigation is underway into internal operations of the Bonne Terre prison….and that three people with administrative responsibilities have been suspended. But he’s going to let the rumors and speculation continue. Corrections director Larry Crawford won’t identify the suspended employees or even say what jobs they have because that might identify them. He won’t say what’s being investigated…says if drugs are involved the issue would be given to outside law enforcement and that hasn’t happened–yet. The investigation began within the institution and was approved by the superintendent. He says it’s a personnel matter, not an inmate grievance. He says some rumors and some news reports are disturbing to the staff and are “wide of the mark.” But he wont discuss which ones are off base. Crawford says he hopes to be able to say more before the end of the month….but he’s not promising to say much. Until then, department investigators are free to dig as deeply as they want.
On any given day, several hundred prisoners are released from Missouri’s prison system. Twice as many people are under corrections department supervision on the outside as are under supervision on the inside. More than 20 counties are sending delegates to a summit meeting next week to find ways to keep ex-convicts from becoming convicts again. Next week’s three-day long Missouri Offender Workforce Summit will look at ways former prisoners can go into a community, get back to their families, find jobs, and keep out of trouble. Organizer Antona Jones says their integration into a community is the key to keeping them from committing more crimes. She says they need support for housing, employment, and medical attention–among other things–or their chances of becoming productive citizens is “almost nil.” She says the state is making strong efforts to provide training for people while they are in prison. But she says educating employers and convincing them to change long-standing policies that they don’t hire ex-offenders is one of the biggest challenges the summit will address. Jones hopes the conference helps those potential employers and helps community organizations learn more about programs available to help them help the former prisoner.(The summit is November 7-9 at the Lodge of Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks. More information is available at www.stlarchs.org or at www.proworkdev.com)
Two corrections officers have been shot to death at the women’s prison in Chillicothe. Investigators say one guard shot another then killed himself. No prisoners were involved. Corrections officers at the prison do not carry guns. Prison officials are investigating to see how the weapons got into the prison.
Ground will be broken within a few weeks for a new prison to handle Missouri’s growing number of women convicts. The Chillicothe women’s prison is the oldest prison in the state. It’s full, with 525 inmates…. The women’s prison at Vandalia has a design capacity of 1925 inmates. It’s about 100 beyond that number, with five or six beds in some cells designed to hold four inmates. A builder of the new prison has been picked. An aggressive construction schedule has been set. But Corrections Director Larry Crawford says he expects the system to run out of bed space before the new prison is finished. He says the prison population is at “critical mass.” The state does have a prison that was closed two years ago to save money–the Church Farm near Jefferson City. But Crawford says that’s not a good alternative because the costs of converting it to a women’s facility would be high and would rob the state of space for men as those numbers increase. He hopes the department can avoid renting prison space from other states. But Crawford says he has not calculated how many more women can be taken into the system before the state has to look for outside housing. The new prison should open late in 2008 or early in 2009.
A court ruling that forced the state to transport a pregnant female prisoner to an abortion clnic last year has been made to apply to all women in Missouri prisons. Federal Judge Dean Whipple has ruled that the US Supreme Court order that Missouri provide the transportation and guards to the inmate, known only as Jane Roe, applies to any pregnant inmate who wants an abortion. Whipple made the original ruling that the state must provide transportation and guards so that Roe could be taken from the Vandalia prison to a St. Louis abortion clinic. The state estimated the cost for transportation and guard salaries at $350. Roe had been sentenced to four years in prison after being arrested for probation violation in California. She had an abortion October 20th, three days after the US Supreme Court upheld Whipple’s ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union asked the court to make the ruling a class action on behalf of all pregnant women imprisoned in Missouri. The ACLU states that at least one female inmate was denied transportation to an abortion clinic since the Roe case. Governor Blunt has urged the Attorney General to appeal the decision, stating, “This ruling violates our traditional Missouri values and is an affront to everyone that values the sanctity of human life.”
The State Corrections Department is under judicial pressure to clean up its execution procedures. Federal Judge Fernando Gaitan has given Corrections Director Larry Crawford and his employees a laundry list of things to change before the state can execute anyone again. Crawford says Gaitan is not banning executions forever – he’s just saying the state must change its procedures to make sure qualified people are in charge of the process and that the procedures are done in a way that the condemned does not feel unconstitutional levels of pain. The judge also does not want a dyslexic surgeon to be mixing the drugs anymore. Furthermore, the judge demands a board certified anesthetist mix the drugs and either administer them or personally supervise the people who do. Crawford admits there will be what he calls “a level of difficulty” in finding a qualified anesthetist, but he is not sure if the difficulty will become an improbability. At this point, in fact, he’s not even sure how the Department will go about recruiting a certified anesthetist. The Department has 18 days to do the things Gaitan wants. Even if it does, there’s no guarantee court appeals of the procedure will be ended.
The Legislature is going to let the state borrow $120-Million more to build a new women’s prison at Chillicothe. But it has not approved letting the Corrections Department take bids from companies that combine architectural work with engineering plans. It’s a system called design-build. Corrections Director Larry Crawford says the failure could stretch the project for another year and make it cost more. Still, Crawford is eager to get going. The new prison will hold about 1,600 inmates at first.
A guard at the Bonne Terre Prison is hospitalized, recovering from stab wounds to the face and eye, inflicted by an inmate. Prison officials say the woman was stabbed with a weapon made from a broken food tray. The inmate had finished about four years of a five-year burglary sentence. The Corrections Departmnent plans to forward the case to the prosecutor in a few days. The Department says the woman guard who was stabbed had issued a conduct violation to the inmate a few days ago.
An inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center has died. Kenneth Dennis, a 73-year-old offender serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping and rape charges from Atchison and Clinton Counties, died Monday of natural causes. He had been an inmate since August of 1972.
What a difference a year makes. State lawmakers have approved a $20.8 billion state budget two days prior to the deadline, readily agreeing to a budget a bit more than 8.5% larger than the current state budget. Last year’s budget debate featured harsh clashes between Republicans who called for deep budget cuts, especially to Medicaid, and Democrats who resisted them. This year’s debate gave way to minor skirmishes between the two parties as lawmakers argued about where best to spend the increased revenue an improved state economy produced. Lawmakers added $20 million to the Medicaid budget, restoring such services as wheelchair accessories and adding eyeglass coverage. Providers also will receive better reimbursement rates. Democrats, though, argue that the budget should have done more to restore the 90,000 Missourians cut from Medicaid rolls last year. Education gets a boost in this budget. Public schools will receive a $128 million increase in their basic funding formula in an education budget that tops $5 billion for the first time. Colleges and universities will receive two percent more next year, but still will fall short of their highest appropriations, made in Fiscal Year 2002. The Missouri Department of Transportation receives a record $2.6 billion, benefitting from a growth in both state and federal road construction funds. State employees will receive a 4% raise, with employees in specialty fields, such as medical, law enforcement and corrections receiving even larger pay hikes. The budget now heads to Governor Blunt who praises it as a budget based on sound fiscal management. The governor says the gains the state has made this year would not have been made without the responsible and in some cases difficult decisions made last year.The operating budget is contained in HB 1001 through HB 1013