By Kurt Erickson
JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Eric Greitens issued an executive order late Thursday calling for the creation of a task force designed to clean up the state’s embattled prison system.
Faced with problems ranging from a high recidivism rate for prisoners to the recent suicide of a resident of a state-run halfway house for former inmates in St. Louis, the Missouri Department of Corrections has been under a microscope for much of the past year.
A legislative panel met for five months this year to investigate widespread sexual harassment of female prison employees following a series of lawsuits that led to millions of dollars in payouts to workers.
In a post on Facebook on Thursday, Greitens said the agency’s new director, Anne Precythe, “inherited a mess: morale was low, officers were mistreated, not all inmates had a plan for their release.”
Although he said Precythe has taken steps to improve the department since she took over this year, the governor said more must be done to reduce the prison population, reduce recidivism and lower costs for taxpayers.
“We came here to make Missouri safer and save people money. And that’s what we are doing,” the first-year governor noted.
The order calls for a 22-member committee to be headed by Precythe. It would include lawmakers, corrections experts and members of the public.
The order calls for recommendations to be issued by Dec. 31, with an eye on enacting legislative changes in the 2018 session of the Legislature.
Among the task force’s charges is to “minimize the need to increase prison capacity.”
The state’s 21 prisons house more than 32,000 inmates and employ 11,000 workers.
Greitens said he traveled Wednesday to the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green and met an inmate who wants to drive trucks once he’s released.
The governor said he wants to make sure more inmates can achieve goals when their sentences are completed.
“When he comes out, he’ll go to work. He will be a responsible citizen,” he wrote.
The executive order does not specifically mention any potential changes to the state Board of Probation and Parole.
Former state Rep. Donald Ruzicka resigned this month from the panel after the Post-Dispatch reported that he and an unidentified Department of Corrections employee entertained themselves at some parole hearings by trying to get inmates to say words and song titles such as “platypus” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.”
Greitens called the revelations “disturbing” and “unacceptable.”