JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The first official hearing of the committee investigating sexual and racial harassment claims against certain Department of Corrections employees instead served as more an introductory hearing for the department’s new chair, Anne Precythe.
Precythe spoke with legislators on the Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct to offer how she will work to turn around the department which has come under strict scrutiny recently due to harassment lawsuits settled with the state funds. Precythe said she wanted to focus on how best to improve the behavior of not only inmates but corrections officers and leadership as well.
“It’s a new day, it’s a new administration, and it’s going to become a new culture for corrections,” she said.
To accomplish her goals, Precythe said she would instill a three-part platform as the new chair of the committee, including a zero-tolerance policy for failure to report or respond to harassment, promoting those qualified for a given job instead of basing promotions on seniority and finding ways to boost employee morale. Precythe said she did not have the ability to solely ask for pay raises as part of boosting morale, but she did want to focus on how to value employees for their work.
Representatives on the committee asked few questions about the current controversy surrounding the lawsuits, but even after the hearing, Precythe had few answers, noting she was still trying to gather information to compile a more holistic solution to the problem.
“I’m in the process of looking at the entire culture of corrections within our institutions, within the community, how we do business, how we communicate with staff, so that’s my focus,” she said. When asked if she had read any of the lawsuits brought by and against Corrections employees, she said she had focused more on meeting and speaking with staff and management at various correctional facilities than reading lawsuits.
Rep. Jim Hansen, the chairman of the committee, said it may actually be too late to focus on where the previous corrections administration had faltered and instead focus on ensuring harassment did not occur in the future.
“The horse is out of the barn on some of these issues and we’re not going to be able to put the back into the barn until we figure out how we correct the situation to where we don’t have to deal with this type of thing in the future,” Hansen, R-Frankford, said.
Hansen expanded by saying the committee had yet to decide if they wanted to (or could) bring in former Department of Corrections chair George Lombardi for questioning.