MO Prisons Struggle with Critical Correctional Officer Shortage

Missouri’s prisons have a severe shortage of correctional officers to guard the state’s 34,000 offenders. Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe tells Missourinet they lack about 500 officers among its 22 facilities.

“That’s devastating, especially when you look at particular pockets of our neighboring facilities that have 110 vacancies between two facilities. That contributes to the mandatory overtime and to the increased costs,” says Precythe. “It’s killing our staff. If we were to reduce the prison population, the staffing would be more manageable. We still need to fill the vacancies, but the quality of work that the correctional officers can provide would just be so much better.”

The state’s institutions are currently at capacity. Missouri is working with the Council of State Government’s Justice Center to find ways to better use state funding for its criminal justice system, instead of building another prison.

Precythe says pay is a major contributor to the staffing shortfall.

“We have such a compression issue right now,” says Precythe. “I have correctional officers that have been working nine, ten, twelve years and they’re making the same thing that somebody who comes in right off the street. That’s terrible.”

The department also has a serious need for probation and parole assistants. It is offering a one-time $250 incentive to current employees who refer new workers that complete basic training.

The environment is likely another contributor to an employee shortfall. Precythe, who began serving at the helm about a year ago, inherited a department suffering from a culture of harassment, violence and intimidation. An investigation last year by the uncovered more than $10 million paid out by the state in five years to settle lawsuits with the department.

Precythe, along with department officials and state lawmakers, have been working to turn around the acute problems that have plagued the state’s prison system.

(Alisa Nelson, Missourinet)

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