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Missouri corrections worker: Nepotism, fraternization rampant in agency

A Missouri House subcommittee is investigating claims of harassment and retaliation at the state Department of Corrections. Photo taken in mid-February 2017.
File photo | Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

A longtime Missouri Department of Corrections employee says the agency is rampant with nepotism and fraternization.

Travis Case, who works at the northeast Missouri correctional facility at Bowling Green, testified Thursday in front of the Missouri House subcommittee on Corrections, Workforce Environment and Conduct. That panel is investigating allegations of harassment and retaliation against department employees by supervisors and coworkers.

Case was one of two corrections workers to testify Thursday. He spoke about how he sees the favoritism develop.

"It starts out small," he testified. "If I'm a warden at a facility, which I'm not, and I have a friend ... if I'm not an ethical warden, I'm going to give those friends — and the nepotism part could be family — I’m going to give them special privileges … I'm going to get them promoted."

Case said while Missouri has procedures for promotions and hiring, there's "always that gray area."

"There's always that vague policy that allows them to do what they want if they want to, or to use it the other way," he said.

He recounted one instance where an entry-level receptionist was hired.

"We had 14 interviews. It took the interview team a total of two days, 10 hours, to interview these people. They picked who they thought was the best candidate for the job. At the end of it, the warden comes in and says, 'No, that's not who we're going to hire; I want this person.' One person was brave enough to tell the warden that she would never serve on an interview team again, 'You just wasted 10 hours of my time.' ... This is not an isolated case; this happens often, very often."

Jason Horn, who works the evening shift at the Farmington Correctional Center, said eight corrections officers have resigned this month.

"One officer with roughly 20 years of employment told me that he believes there is a general lack of concern for officers who work there," Horn said. "He said, 'For a lack of a better way to put it, we're tools that are needed to get a job done ... we feel like rusty tools that no one cares enough about to take care of.' Another officer of roughly 10 years told me that he does not feel like he should care if the higher-ups didn't."

Corrections director Anne Precythe has promised to install a new culture at the agency. She testified before the same committee two weeks ago.

Listen to Travis Case's testimony below:

Listen to Jason Horn's testimony below:

Jason Horn testifies before Mo. House committee

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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