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New Corrections chief promises "a new culture" in prisons

Marshall Griffin|St. Louis Public Radio

The new director of the Missouri Department of Corrections is promising "a new day," "a new direction" and "a new culture" for an agency that’s been plagued by allegations of harassment and retaliation.

Anne Precythe is the former Corrections director for North Carolina, and was tabbed by Governor Eric Greitens to replace George Lombardi. Precythe's appointment was confirmed Thursday by the State Senate.

A few hours before "acting" was removed from her official title, Precythe appeared before the House committee appointed to look into allegations of widespread physical and sexual harassment of Corrections employees by supervisors and co-workers. She said she'll have zero tolerance for employees not reporting incidents of harassment or retaliation or not responding to complaints.

"Zero tolerance does not necessarily mean everybody gets put on administrative leave or subsequently gets fired, but it means that we're going to take all complaints seriously and we're going to look into them," she told the committee. "That, to me, is what really gets to creating a safe environment."

When it comes to promotions, Precythe says there will be more emphasis on mentoring and embracing a healthy work environment instead of someone's tenure with the corrections department.

"I do not subscribe to the next-in-line promotional opportunity...I am all about taking a two-year employee over an 18-year employee all day long, as long as that employee has the skill set for what we're looking for for that particular job," she said. "I am about putting people who can help change the culture of the environment in the positions of management and authority, because that is the only way we are going to be successful."

She told the committee that while in North Carolina, she presided over a 65 percent turnover rate in management within the state's probation and parole division.

"If we put people who don't buy into this new day in positions of authority, we are not going to get a new day in our institutions, or in our community, or in our central (DOC) office."

Committee members from both parties complimented Precythe on her goals and vision for the Dept. of Corrections.

"I am very impressed at this point from what I've heard," said Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City. "You have a huge task ahead of you...so to have the guts to come to Missouri, knowing what you are facing, that takes some pretty serious courage."

"Right now, I think morale is down," said Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi. "I have three prisons in my area, and when I go into Wal-Mart I can't get out of there because I have to listen to the war stories. I look at you as a breath of fresh air, and I'm glad we're heading in a different direction and I look for better things in the future."

But committee members didn't spend the whole meeting praising Precythe. They also told her about concerns they want her to address, including the medical treatment provided to inmates.

"I get an awful lot of complaints from inmates that need, perhaps, surgeries or specific treatments that, for whatever reason, the contractor has determined it's too expensive," said McCann Beatty. "They are literally suffering; as if you needed something else on your plate, I would like you to keep (that) on your radar as well."

The committee doesn't plan to ask former Director George Lombardi to testify. But committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, told reporters they will speak with current and former Corrections employees.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.