Missouri House to investigate reports of harassment within Department of Corrections

The state House of Representatives will investigate reports of harassment within the state Department of Corrections, which has reportedly victimized numerous employees and cost the state millions in legal settlements.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

A recent article on Pitch.com outlined multiple cases in which, it said, court documents showed some Corrections employees were the victims of harassment, retaliation, and threats based on sex, age, religion, or physical ability.

In several of those cases, the employees or former employees making the allegations agreed to a settlement with the state.  Between 2012 and 2016 those settlements totaled more than $7.5-million.

“The things that have been reported coming out of the Department of Corrections are unacceptable.  They’re unacceptable for our state.  They out to be unacceptable in any workplace environment,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff). 

“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,” said Richardson.

He said 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,” said Richardson. 

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) chairs the House committee that deals with the Department of Corrections’ budget.  She said the reports of harassment never came up in her committee, even though they were resulting in sizable settlements.

“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,” said Conway. 

The line in the state budget from which money for settlements with the state comes does not have a finite dollar amount in it.  Rather, it has an “E” at the end of that line, meaning it includes an estimated amount.  That allows for additional money to be used for that purpose, as needed.  Conway said that is one reason the settlements never came to the attention of a legislative committee.

Richardson said details on how the House investigation will proceed will be released in coming weeks.