Inmates Complain as Missouri Jails Face Shortages of Clothing, Hygiene Products and Other Items | Law and order

JEFFERSON CITY — As Gov. Mike Parson turns to a task force to help address ongoing supply chain issues, one of his own departments is dealing with shortages caused by pandemic-related economic changes .

At the Missouri Department of Corrections, stores where inmates can purchase snacks, clothing and hygiene items have periodically had empty shelves since COVID-19 sent shockwaves through the shipping and processing areas. manufacturing.

“At various times over the past two years, the department has experienced temporary supply chain shortages for almost everything sold in canteens, but fortunately the shortages have generally not affected multiple items simultaneously. “said DOC spokeswoman Karen Pojmann.

Lori Curry, who founded an organization called Missouri Prison Reformsaid she had been hearing complaints from prisoners about the shortages for months.

Curry, who defends inmates and prison staff, said inmates struggled to get food and hygiene items, as well as clothing.

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“In some cases, the only winter clothing available was size small or 4X,” said Curry, a Joplin resident. “At Bonne Terre, prison staff have been allowed to purchase items for the commissioner from other sources to supply stores.”

Last year, she said prison officials blamed low inventory on strong demand after inmates received stimulus checks from the federal government as part of the pandemic response.

“They said the prisoners had bought too much,” Curry said.

Now, however, Curry said prisoners were being told the shortages were a supply chain issue.

Retailers nationwide struggled to keep shelves fully stocked with all manner of daily necessities, slowing production and distribution of goods. At the same time, consumer demand remains robust.

Parson, in response, formed a task force to seek solutions to the delays.

The Commissioners’ supplier is Bridgeton-based Keefe Group, which on its website says it serves more than 650,000 prisoners across the country, supplying a range of shop items from cans of tuna to pennies – extra clothes. They have a range of cell block ready electronics including compact disc players, watches and clocks.

Since 2019, Keefe Group has been paid more than $2.4 million by Missouri for its work, according to state payroll records.

The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In Illinois, Keefe recently lost his contract with the prison system due to issues with the bidding process.

Supply issues have also affected stewardship items in Illinois, where prison advocates say widespread shortages are common.

According to a December WBEZ reportinmates watched stocks of laundry detergent, socks, boxers and shirts run out for several months.

To address the shortages, the Illinois Department of Corrections distributed free care packages to inmates containing hygiene items and food items worth about $25.

In Missouri, inmates have been the most frustrated with shortages of shoes, televisions, chips and soda, Pojmann said.

But, she added, “The procurement team found other vendors with available inventory to provide temporary relief or acceptable alternatives when possible. Sometimes they even reached out to warehouses on a daily basis. across the country to find out what products were in stock and place orders immediately.

Pojmann agreed that commissioners play an important role in suppressing dissent behind bars.

“Minimizing disruptions to product availability definitely boosts morale and helps keep plant operations running smoothly,” Pojmann said.

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