Vera Institute of Justice | St. Louis Public Radio

Vera Institute of Justice

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.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, left, listens as the Rev. Phillip Duvall addresses the importance of diversion programs on Jan. 30, 2019.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner says her office will stop requesting cash bail for many low-level felonies, such as drug possession.

Flanked by criminal-justice reform advocates Wednesday at a church in north St. Louis, Gardner also pledged to boost the number of people accepted into her office’s diversion programs, which combine probation-like requirements with access to services like job training and mental health care to keep people out of jail.