Employee says staffing conditions at Cameron prison led to riot

Posted at 6:27 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-14 19:27:24-04

CAMERON, Mo. — An employee at the Crossroads Correctional Center gave 41 Action News a picture of how the facility runs and outlines concerns he says many staff workers share. 

A riot broke out on Saturday evening. 

"I was angry. I was very upset that it had been allowed to get to this point. But in no way, shape or form was I surprised," the employee said, who wanted to be anonymous. 

The employee, who holds a managerial position, said he heard directly from inmates that they were planning something and took it to managers above him. 

Then it happened when a sit-down in the dining hall spiraled out of control. 

The employee says it stemmed from a tobacco ban enacted in April, which angered many of the inmates. An asthmatic inmate at the prison sued, and won in 2017, for being placed in cells with smokers. 

While the employee wasn't there at the time, he says he heard from many others who were. 

"They took hold of the kitchen area. They caused extensive damage breaking windows, water fixtures, appliances. From there, they were allowed to gain access to the warehouse of the prison. Using the machinery in there to cause even more mayhem and destruction," he described. 

He said correctional officers and staff withdrew, locking themselves in other areas for safety. 

Karen Pojmann, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections says 78 inmates are responsible for the damage, which she describes as extensive. She didn't have a number amount to release on Monday afternoon.

Pojmann said damage is widespread throughout the building, which houses food service areas and its Missouri Vocational Enterprises factory. Inmates can get job training at the factory, which houses machinery and equipment. 

About 10 to 12 inmates were treated at the facility for minor injuries. Pojmann said 209 inmates total were in the dining hall when the sit-down started, and 133 of them surrendered. 

No staff workers were hurt, which the employee says is the surprising part. 

"We are running with numbers that are critically dangerous and we've been doing so for far too long," the employee said. 

State workers in Missouri are the lowest paid in the country.  The employee says that factor is contributing to high turnover rates, poor supervision from the top down, low pay, and inexperienced staffing. He says CO's will often work 12 to 16-hour shifts and are called in on their days off to cover.

"They are scared and afraid to do their job, and the inmates recognize this," the employee said. 

He says people without academy training are often brought in to sit and watch the goings-on of the prison, which he says pads the staffing numbers. He says these untrained people are paid a little less than CO's and can't do many of their duties. 

The salary for a new CO is around $28,000. 

The staffing issue falls on the inmates too, says Lexi, the fiancé of a current inmate at Crossroads. 

Lexi says she hasn't heard from her fiancé since the riot Saturday night. 

"It's scary because you never know what goes on down there. People get stabbed, people get hurt in those riots," Lexi said. 

She says her fiancé complains about dirty conditions at the prison and oftentimes their privileges, like going outside or talking on the phone, are taken away because there aren't enough CO's to supervise. 

"Even though they did what they did, they're paying the price for it. But you don't have to treat them inhumanely," Lexi said. 

Last July a brawl broke out at the prison, which ended with two inmates going to the hospital. 

The employee says the current jail administration, under the lead of director Anne Precythe, should listen to the complaints or "something like this will happen again."