Prison | St. Louis Public Radio

Prison

Donald Hutson is one of hundreds of people who have overdosed while in state prisons since May 2017, according to Missouri Department of Corrections records.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Destini Hutson spent much of her childhood picturing what life would be like when her dad came home.

Over time, her plans turned to the practical: teach him how to use an iPhone, help him find a job, go to Chick-fil-A together.

“‘It’s a lot that you’re going to have to learn,’” Hutson told her dad, Donald, who went to prison in 1997 when she was still a baby.

Those plans came to a halt last September, when Donald Hutson died of a drug overdose at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. He’s one of more than 430 inmates who have overdosed in state prisons since May 2017, according to internal data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. While there are many ways drugs are smuggled into prisons, DOC employees say internal corruption is a key part of the problem.

Tonya Harry, the chief of security at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis photographed on May 1, 2019.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Tonya Harry had been working as a correctional officer for about a year when she had one of the most traumatic experiences of her life.

During her shift at the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis — also known as the Workhouse — she discovered an inmate who had died by suicide.

“Sometimes I still think about it,” said Harry, who serves as the jail’s chief of security more than 20 years later.

A recent St. Louis University survey of about 300 jail officers in Missouri found more than half reported symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s incarceration rate for women is among the highest in the country. 

The majority of these women have children, yet little research has examined the effects of incarceration on mothers specifically.

Joe Watson has lived a troubled life. He had a traumatic childhood, spent years addicted to cocaine and meth and is now serving a 20 year sentence in the Jefferson City Correction Center for second degree murder.

But the 47-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, native was shaken to his core by the death of his friend and fellow inmate Stevie Jimerson from hepatitis C early last year. 

June 12, 2017 photo. Patty Prewitt (right) and Amy Sherrill perform a scene from "Run-On Sentence" in the Prison Performing Arts production at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center
Provided | Prison Performing Arts

A St. Louis-based organization called Prison Performing Arts (PPA) is taking a fresh approach in its 27-year-old effort to turn inmates into actors.

The program is known for the “thees,” “thous” and “forswears” of Shakespeare’s scripts. But a contemporary play on stage Thursday at the Women’s Eastern, Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia expands PPA beyond The Bard.

“Run-On Sentence” is based on interviews done with those inside the institution. Inmate Patty Prewitt said the playwright Stacie Lents took time to really understand their world.

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.

Concordance Academy president Danny Ludeman announces that (from left) St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, and St. Charles County executive Steve Ehlmann have committed $2 million to his program over the next three year
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

A public-private partnership that tries to help prisoners readjust to society is getting a funding boost from regional government.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, and St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann on Tuesday announced they are committing a total of $2 million to Concordance Academy. The program, which is the brain child of former Wells-Fargo chief executive Danny Ludeman, provides a variety of services to prisoners both before and after they are released in an effort to keep them from re-offending.

File photo | Thomas Hawk | Flickr

A new organization in St. Louis County seeks to help incarcerated adults transition into productive and healthy lives upon release from prison. The organization’s name is Concordance Academy and was founded by Danny Ludeman, the former CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, and partners with Washington University’s Concordance Institute.

Three prisoners share their stories through performance.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Recent national prison reforms have included shortening sentences for drug offenders and releasing a number of prisoners because of the changes in sentencing guidelines. Yet roughly 32,000 people are incarcerated in Missouri.

Charles McClelland, Houston police chief, at the podium
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

The push for criminal justice reform did not start with the shooting death of Michael Brown, but the events in Ferguson and elsewhere appear to have created momentum for change. More than 100 police chiefs from across the U.S. are in Washington, D.C., this week to push Congress and the White House to make “common sense” changes in criminal laws and sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders.

St. Louis County jail
File photo

St. Louis County officials will soon decide whether to turn medical services at two county jails over to a private contractor. The decision is pending even as members of the medical community — including current justice center employees — have raised concerns over the dangers of privatizing healthcare in jail.

(via Flickr/neil conway)

Starting Thursday, more than 150 people from all parts of the criminal justice system with gather at Washington University to ponder a radical remake of the way this country uses incarceration.

The conference is the first major undertaking for the Smart Decarceration Initiative. Carrie Pettus-Davis, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, is one of the organizers.

Jeff Smith
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 2:43 p.m., Sept. 15 with audio from "St. Louis on the Air" - If you’ve developed even a fleeting interest in St. Louis politics, then you probably know the basic story of how former state Sen. Jeff Smith transformed from a rising star to a convicted felon.

After all, usually when Smith’s name appears in print, it’s followed by a comma and the words “who went to prison for lying to federal authorities about a campaign finance issue.” He’s also discussed bits and pieces of his incarcerations in interviews, essays and even TED Talks.

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

The question of quality of life for imprisoned persons is a difficult one.

What kind of opportunities do prisoners deserve? And if imprisonment merits any kind of effort to improve quality of life, which initiatives are most important? Most helpful? Most appropriate?

File photo | Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

If there’s one thing Stuart Grebing has learned to love in his 28 years in prison, it’s his Cadillac. At the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, a “Cadillac” is defined as “Coffee prepared with a full range of condiments.“ It’s one of the terms important to life in Bonne Terre.

It's not the only word that doesn't quite mean what non-inmates assume. Take, for example, the word jail. In prison, “jail” is a verb; it's something you can do well.

Office of Sen. Durbin

At least half of all prison suicides are committed by inmates held in so-called solitary confinement, according to several state and national studies. 

While a first-of-its-kind report on segregation practices in federal prisons shows improvement, with the number of inmates held in solitary confinement on the decline. Still, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., “There’s still much more work to be done.”

Tom Cummins
Provided by Criminal Justice Ministry

When volunteer prison chaplain Tom Cummins knocks on the door of a prison cell, the inmate’s voice is nearly always welcoming, sometimes delighted.

“I deal almost exclusively with those in isolation,” he said. “The guys know what society thinks of them. They are part of the throwaway society like papers tossed aside, abandoned, out-of-mind, in prisons that are hidden in the country, off a side road. When anyone treats them like a child of God, they flourish. A chaplain can help bring them back to a sense of being part of a whole community.”

The Rev. Dietra Wise Baker
Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

First of a two-part series.

Prison chaplains wear hope on their sleeves. Many talk about ex-prisoners who transform their lives in prison and, after release, become contributing citizens and good parents.

One of the chaplains, the Rev. Dietra Wise Baker said that most judges and others who work in the justice and corrections systems are “loving,” but the system is flawed.

Piper Kerman
Sam Zalutsky

Will Piper get back with Larry? Will Alex return to Litchfield Prison? If she does, will Piper be able to resist her charming nemesis?

“Orange Is the New Black” author Piper Kerman answered one of these questions and hinted at another in an interview, prior to her upcoming St. Louis appearances at Lindenwood University next Tuesday, Sept. 9 and Maryville University next Wednesday and Thursday, co-sponsored by Left Bank Books.

Commentary: What Is The Point Of Prison?

May 6, 2014
(via Flickr/neil conway)

The saga of Mike Anderson, a man convicted of armed robbery 13 years ago and amazingly never put in prison (except for a few months at the time he should have been released), is seemingly at an end. A circuit judge decided that making Anderson serve his sentence would “serve no purpose” and released him to live the rest of his life a free man.

The series of events raises troubling questions on the front end of the Missouri criminal justice system: How could a person guilty of a serious crime be able to escape punishment without anyone noticing?

Illinois Sends $7 Million To Prison Diversion Program

Dec 29, 2013
Flickr |neil conway

 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s office has announced $7 million in grants aimed at funneling non-violent offenders away from prison and into community-based services. 

The funds come through Adult Redeploy Illinois, a program that encourages local jurisdictions to treat and supervise certain offenders, using tools like drug courts and mental health courts.

Quinn's office says the program saves up to $17,000 per year for each offender.

Provided by Perennial

A local program re-purposing broken chairs helps heal women with criminal convictions as they prepare to re-enter society.

The hit TV series “Orange Is the New Black” explores the lives of women behind bars. But even after their release, orange remains an important color to some of St. Louis' former female inmates. So do purple, green and the entire rainbow.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In correctional health care, life’s lessons are taught with a two by four.

More often than not, my patients are damaged people. And for many, their criminal accusations or convictions are the least of their problems. Many battle addiction to substances both legal and illegal. Many are mentally ill. Some are developmentally delayed. Almost all of the women, and many of the men, have experienced abuse — sexually, physically, and/or emotionally — at the hands of parents, children and other loved ones. Perfection is not an option for them; better is good enough.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Laura Bates first went to prison in Chicago. She wasn't there to stay, of course, but went to volunteer, beginning work that’s lasted several decades.

“My first thought was to work with first-time offenders,” she says. “Ironically, 25 years later I’m all the way in super max.”

Incarcerated parents in Missouri could spend more time with their children under a bill given first-round approval by the Missouri House.
 
The legislation endorsed Monday would set up a test program that would provide transportation for children who live more than 50 miles away from their parent's prison to visit them.
 
Two Missouri men's prisons and two women's prisons would be selected for the program's trial. The Department of Corrections would have to submit a final report on the program's effect in 2017.
 

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 28, 2013 - The adage has it that we cannot afford to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. It is a humble truism that recognizes we are flawed mortals living in an imperfect world. We muddle through by doing the best we can.

In our private lives, we recognize this truth, however reluctantly. Few claim to have married the ideal spouse, live in a perfect home, drive the finest car and work at a dream job. On the contrary, if the contents of advice columns, reality TV and the daily news are any indication, we seem to be defined by our shortcomings.

Flickr |neil conway

Gov. Pat Quinn's budget cuts that will force the closure of some prisons and other state facilities will stand.

The Illinois House didn't consider an override vote Wednesday before adjourning on the last day of veto session. A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says the speaker didn't think it was necessary action to take.

Last week, the Senate voted to reject cuts of $56 million to funds for the Tamms high-security prison and other sites.

Quinn opposed the override.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 5, 2012 - Antonio Bobo towered above the wooden podium between him and row after row of onlookers seated in the Mary Ann Lee center at Ranken Technical College. On his left was a freshly detailed Ford Taurus, and on his right were mounds of wrapped presents. Bobo, pausing every so often to wipe away tears, gave thanks to those both in attendance and absent for their gifts to him and his family.

Appeals Court Ruling Keeps Prisons Open - For Now

Nov 17, 2012
Flickr |neil conway

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn can't proceed with plans to close prisons - at least for now.

A state appeals court has denied his administration's request to dissolve a temporary restraining order that prevented him from closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight, three halfway houses and juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. 

The Fifth District Appellate Court entered its order on Wednesday, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees received it on Friday.

Morning headlines: Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sep 18, 2012
(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Proposed amendment to appear on November ballot

A Missouri appeals court panel has upheld the ballot summary for a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the process for selecting appellate judges.

In its ruling Monday, a three-judge panel of the Western District Court of Appeals certified the summary that voters will see on the November ballot.

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