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Government, Politics & Issues

Staffing shortages led to recent jail escapes, claim leaked documents

Tis article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2011 - The Slay administration is taking issue with allegations that staffing shortages are responsible for recent escapes from the city's jails. The charges are implied in several memos and letters sent anonymously to the Beacon on Friday. Similar material was sent to other media outlets.

The material also disclosed ongoing tension between the city's corrections commissioner, Gene Stubblefield, and his boss, Charles Bryson, the director of public safety. Stubblefield has been placed on forced leave while city officials examine jail procedures and other issues involving the Department of Corrections, says Sam Dotson, director of city operations. The focus is on procedures at the older facility on Hall Street and the city's relatively modern jail downtown. Between the two facilities, there have been three escapes since the spring.

The tension between Stubblefield and Bryson has been going on at least since 2008, according to the leaked documents. On Nov. 4 of that year, Stubblefield sent a letter to then-director of operations chief Ron Smith, accusing Bryson of either being unfamiliar with corrections policy and procedures or having "no regard for same."

In another letter to Bryson on April 14 of this year, Stubblefield complained about positions, including that of detention center superintendent, going unfilled. He argued that detention center superintendents were "critical to our operations" and added that "there is a direct relationship between these positions (and) the safety and security of staff, inmates and the general public."

Dotson reiterated his argument that none of the breaches was related to positions being unfilled. "I can tell you that those positions may not have been filled by name, but (people) were performing those functions. I hear you out, but just because the positions weren't being filled didn't imply that the job wasn't being done."

In each of the escapes, Dotson pointed to the behavior of one or more employees. During last week's escape from the Hall Street facility, he said "staffing was not an issue. There were enough people at enough positions that if they had been doing their jobs correctly, this would not have happened."

He added that corrections employees perform well 95 percent of the time.

"But we have to be right 100 percent of the time to keep people from escaping," Dotson said.

He said he did not know how long the corrections inquiry would take, but that it will be completed in "weeks not months." Nor was he sure that the outcome would lead to allegations of misconduct against Stubblefield. The Civil Service Commission would have to decide the validity of any potential allegations against Stubblefield, Dotson said.

Asked why nobody higher up had intervened to address the tension betwen Stubblefield and Bryson, Dotson said, "I think you have only one side of the emails. I think Mr. Stubblefield made a case and he used some very important words, such as security and compromise, to make his points. But I think his boss, Charles Bryson, also made his case, so there was a back and forth between them."

He also disclosed that he had intervened since becoming director of operations.

"I've had the two in my office" to discuss Stubblefield's concerns, Dotson said, "But I don't think any of them rose to the level of causing the escapes that have happened since I've been here."

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