JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Jim Hansen will chair a committee to investigate claims of sexual harassment within the Department of Corrections uncovered toward the end of last year by Kansas City’s Pitch newspaper.
House Speaker Todd Richardson and House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee Chair Paul Fitzwater announced the formation of the committee Wednesday morning. Richardson expressed confidence the department would improve under Gov. Eric Greitens and his new selection to head the Department of Corrections, Anne Precythe, but the two lawmakers both agreed further investigation into the department was needed.
“The people of Missouri still deserve answers as to how this kind of environment was allowed to exist,” Richardson said. “Rep. Hansen and the members of his committee will work to obtain the answers we need, and to ensure the department does not allow a pervasive culture of harassment to exist in the future.”
Richardson himself became Speaker amidst a flurry of controversy over sexual harassment claims in the General Assembly. One of his first orders of business was the creation of new best practice guidelines and provisions against non-platonic relationships between lawmakers, staff, and interns.
This investigation will join the other government agencies looking into the department. State Auditor Nicole Galloway began an investigation into the State Legal Defense Fund following the revelations. That fund provides legal defense for employees of the state during lawsuits and for settlements, and Galloway is looking into how much the fund was used to provide settlements for some of the offending corrections officers.
Hansen said he has already spoken with several corrections employees and he has a meeting scheduled with Precythe.
“We have all been shocked and concerned by the stories and the lawsuits that have resulted from the environment that was allowed to exist within the department,” Hansen said in a statement. “It’s clear significant changes need to be made to put an end to this culture, and to give our underpaid corrections employees a safe, professional work environment.”
A definitive timeline has not yet been provided for the investigation.