House panel recommends changes in Missouri Corrections to fight harassment, bullying, and favoritism

The state House is recommending the Department of Corrections make several policy changes to battle sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation, and favoritism among its employees.

Representative Jim Hansen (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Jim Hansen (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

After news articles last fall brought such issues to light, as well as millions of dollars in settlements with the state by former Corrections employees who had been victims, the House formed a subcommittee to investigate the work environment in the Department.

Read the subcommittee report by clicking here.

Representative Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) chaired that subcommittee.  He and other members heard what they called “disturbing” reports of harassment and treatment of employees over the last few months, as current and former Corrections employees offered testimony.

Hansen said some of the subcommittee’s key recommendations are the implementation of a zero tolerance policy toward harassment; a change in how complaints are handled; the creation of a hotline for taking employee complaints with a mandated 24-hour response to calls; and a review of how employees are promoted and trained.

Hansen said some of those recommendations have already been implemented under the Department’s new director, Anne Precythe.

“Some of them have.  Not all of them,” said Hansen.  “She’s also looked at the training and her approach to training new leaders.  She’s got some ideas in the works there.”

Hansen expresses a lot of confidence in Precythe to improve the environment in Corrections.

“It’s in the bottom of the first [inning] or to top of the second – however you want to look at it – but so far she’s made a lot of the right moves,” said Hansen.  “There’s a lot of good employees out there and we’re asking them to be part of the solution and not the problem, to help her, and with time I think that she’ll get the changes done that need to be done.”

Hansen hopes House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will keep the subcommittee active so that it can follow-up on the Department.

“We want to have the director come and report to us on a quarterly basis and give us updates, so I don’t see any reason to disband this committee,” said Hansen.

Other recommendations included standardizing policies and procedures across all institutions except with department director’s approval, and increasing the minimum age of employment from 18 to 21.

Hansen thanked the members of the subcommittee and said each of them took seriously the task of hearing what was going on in the Corrections Department and recommending changes.

Some earlier stories:

Number 2 Corrections official faces committee investigating sexual harassment, retaliation in department

House votes to require monthly reporting on settlements in cases against Missouri

Panel on Corrections Department environment hears of ‘vague’ harassment policies, working in ‘hell’

Subcommittee on harassment in Corrections Department frustrated by Department’s structure, process

New prison system director talks to House committee about harassment, more