The Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) has confirmed an employee at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre was punched in the face while trying to restrain an inmate on Sunday night, resulting in facial injury that was treated on site.
This makes the fourth or fifth incident — the number depends on whether it’s the state’s or employees’ tally — a two-week string of violence in which inmates have attacked fellow prisoners or ERDCC employees.
Department of Corrections (DOC) Communications Director Karen Pojmann said Sunday night’s incident has not been determined to be connected to previous incidents which she confirmed:
- Feb. 5, a fight occurred among multiple offenders in which an offender’s injuries required outside medical attention. Prison-made weapons were recovered at the scene.
- Feb. 6, an offender used a homemade weapon to cause minor lacerations to another offender.
- Feb. 7, an offender used a homemade weapon to stab a staff member. The employee was taken to a nearby hospital, treated for injuries and released.
KTVI Fox 2 was reportedly told by the DOC that a fifth alleged incident did not occur, although the St. Louis news station reports Lori Curry, executive director for Missouri Prison Reform, said she was informed by an ERDCC employee or employees that an inmate was stabbed up to 22 times and was sent to a hospital on Feb. 4.
“There isn’t necessarily any evidence of a connection among the incidents and we have our safety procedures in place, we have investigators at their facilities, we’ve called in the corrections emergency response team (CERT) to deal with issues or to conduct searches to do further investigations,” Pojmann said, listing the steps in the DOC’s response.
Curry was quoted in KTVI’s story as saying the current level of unrest at the ERDCC might be gang-related, from reports she has received.
The prison, like so many others across the nation, has for almost two years been dealing with heightened tensions due to COVID-19 outbreaks, shortages of basic hygiene and other resources, higher turnover and understaffing among personnel and an associated increase in anxiety and anger among prisoners.
“Offenders who have been involved in these assaults are placed in isolation. They’re getting conduct violations and they likely will be referred for prosecution. So they’re taken out of the general population,” Pojmann said. “When these assaults occur, the search teams can go in and conduct searches, can investigate the situations. If it’s an ongoing situation, they would gain control of the facility and put it on lockdown.”
Pojmann said media reports on dangerous and stressful prison conditions don’t help retain or recruit officers and other staff, but the DOC is on a massive recruitment campaign for more help. She said there is also hope that the 5.5% raise Gov. Mike Parson is encouraging will actually take effect, which could boost a starting ERDCC salary from its present $38,000.
“I don’t know of any department of corrections in the United States that is not struggling with staffing issues so we’ve made a very concerted effort to try to improve retention, and it is actually improving,” she said. “We also have dedicated recruiters for every region of the state, we’re working on getting even more recruiters, we’re having recruiting events. We’ve invested in a very large media campaign for recruitment that involves billboards, radio ads, digital ads, Facebook ads, and so forth.
“Things are improving. It’s a gradual improvement, but they are getting better in terms of the safety and security. Everyone is very well trained in safety techniques and creating a safe environment. We have rigorous basic training as well as follow-up training for all of our staff. And again, when necessary, we can call in the corrections emergency response teams from throughout the region to get a handle on any situation that seems to be developing.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.