A Missouri prison remains on lockdown more than a month after a sit-down protest turned into a riot, and officials with the union that represents corrections officers worry that a severe staffing shortage could lead to more violence.
Inmate activities have been restricted at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron since May 12. After dinner on that day, 209 inmates staged a protest out of anger over restrictions on recreation and programs that were borne out of a corrections officer staffing shortage.
Eventually the inmates were ordered to return to their cells. The Missouri Department of Corrections said 78 of them refused to do so and began damaging property in the building that houses dining halls, the kitchen, staff offices and a factory.
Staff and the 131 inmates who surrendered after the protest were removed from the building. Local police and the Missouri Highway Patrol arrived. A patrol negotiator brokered peace after about six hours. No staff members were hurt. About a dozen inmates were treated for scrapes and bruises.
However, weeks later, an investigation continues. Meanwhile, repairs to offices, machines, security cameras, windows and other damaged property are ongoing, said Karen Pojmann, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
For now, inmates get only sack meals and no phone calls or visits, other than with their attorneys, Pojmann said. Showers are limited to once every three days. Recreation areas are off-limits, but inmates still have access to law library materials, medications and medical services, and can send and receive mail.
Pojmann said amenities such as recreation time, phone calls and expanded library access are expected to be restored over the next couple of weeks.
Statewide, 528 base-level corrections officer positions are open, Pojmann said. The problem is particularly pronounced at Crossroads, which has 70 vacancies.
Every event that occurs at a prison — meetings, classes, recreation — must be overseen by corrections officers. With so many staff vacancies, some programs are put on hold and recreation has to be limited.
That causes anger to boil over among the inmates, said Tim Cutt, grievance officer for the Missouri Corrections Officers Association. In addition to the riot at Crossroads, female corrections officers have recently been injured in attacks by inmates at prisons in Bowling Green and Farmington, Cutt said.
"We haven't lost an officer in Missouri since 1983," Cutt said. "How long can it go on with the cuts we've seen?"
The problem, Cutt said, starts with low pay. He said an entry-level corrections officer in Missouri earns $29,000 annually — last among the 50 states.
Pojmann said the Department of Corrections has begun an aggressive recruitment campaign statewide, but especially in Cameron, a town of 10,000 residents 50 miles north of Kansas City. Cameron is home to two prisons — Crossroads, with a capacity of 1,440 inmates, and the Western Missouri Correctional Center, which has a capacity of 1,925 inmates. The department even has a full-time recruiter in Cameron.
Meanwhile, the state's prison population continues to grow. Missouri had fewer than 6,000 prison inmates in 1980. It has more than 32,000 today.