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Missouri Department of Corrections retaliates against prisoners who make complaints, lawsuit claims

Missouri Eastern Correctional Center
File photo | Katelyn Mae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Eastern Correctional Center

The Missouri Department of Corrections allegedly retaliates against prisoners who file complaints against prison guards and other officials, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Filed in St. Louis County Court by the MacArthur Justice Center at St. Louis, the lawsuit claims inmates who file complaints regularly have their cells searched, are denied privacy for telephone calls and lawyer visits and, in some cases, are transferred to facilities greater distances away from their families.

The state agency, which said it doesn't comment on pending litigation, has been beset by negative publicity and increased scrutiny for nearly a year.The department settled several lawsuits with employees who said they were harassed and retaliated against by supervisors and coworkers.

The suit also said some inmates experienced retaliation for meeting with attorneys to complain about their living conditions and for seeking legal action over their constitutional rights.

Amy Breihan, a MacArthur Justice Center attorney, said the corrections department has violated her clients’ constitutional rights.

She pointed to plaintiff Tillman Smith, who she claims was denied access to complaint forms at the Eastern Correctional Center in St. Louis County. He had voiced concerns about the lack of hot water in a kitchen facility, and later transferred to the Tipton Correctional Center, which is about 140 miles west, in Moniteau County, west of Jefferson City.

“Unfortunately, these incidents that are detailed in the lawsuit don’t appear to be isolated events,” she said. “(They are) something that our clients encounter with some frequency, and it’s very troubling for us … The message is that if you are a squeaky wheel or if you try to stand up for what is right, you’re going to be punished for it.”

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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