2023 was a big year for the Missouri Department of Corrections. Missouri was the first state in the U.S. to join a national initiative to improve reentry outcomes for people leaving prison. Our department became a national model for honor housing programs that incentivize pro-social behaviors and make our facilities safer. We made work life better for our teams, with higher salaries, extended safety and wellness resources, a positive reversal of staffing rates, and new perks such as on-site staff cafés and employee recognition programs. We said goodbye to dedicated public servants whose leadership fundamentally improved lives, and we welcomed new leaders who will carry their legacy into 2024 and build on our strong foundation. Here are just a few things we accomplished:
1. We increased staff salaries — AGAIN.
A six-year trend of pay increases for corrections staff continued in 2023. A supplemental budget bill proposed in January and signed into law in February gave all state team members an 8.7% cost-of-living pay increase and raised the shift differential to $2 per hour, rewarding staff who work evening and overnight shifts. The historic raise brought the state's investment in pay increases for Missouri Department of Corrections staff since 2017 to $174,815,656. Governor Parson visited Fulton Reception & Diagnostic Center for a ceremonial bill signing, during which team members spoke about what the raise means for them and their families.
2. We grew our family.
2023 was the year the department reversed staffing trends. Thanks to pay raises, incentive programs, special events, multimedia campaigns, recruiting-team magic and the welcoming work environment cultivated by our teams, we saw a steady growth in custody staff recruitment and retention every month. By the end of the year, Correctional Officer I applications had increased by 144% compared to the same period in 2022, and the department had achieved a net gain of more than 650 staff.
3. We saved lives.
Thirteen members of the Missouri Department of Corrections team were presented with the Director's Award of Valor, an honor bestowed on corrections staff who act in a heroic manner despite personal risk. The 2023 recipients include people who physically placed themselves between a weapon-wielding assailant and a colleague, who walked into a room engulfed in flames to usher someone to safety, who stayed at the center of an ongoing catastrophe to help a stranger in need, and who showed the fortitude, focus, and strength of character to stay calm in the face of tremendous danger while bringing about best possible resolutions. Throughout the year, the department also awarded 227 Lifesaver Awards to staff members and facility residents who took lifesaving action in medical emergencies, choking incidents, assaults and other serious events.
4. We pioneered a national reentry initiative.
2023 was a big year for reentry. Missouri became the first state in the U.S. to sign on to Reentry 2030, a national initiative that aims to dramatically improve reentry outcomes for people exiting prison. By 2030, we plan to expand collaborations and partnerships with public and private entities, connect incarcerated Missourians to employment and prepare people to stay employed after incarceration. We aim for 100% of incarcerated Missourians who need career services to receive them; 85% of formerly incarcerated Missourians to be employed within 30 days of release; and 80% of formerly incarcerated Missourians to maintain their employment for at least nine months after release. At our April kickoff event, fellow state agencies, partners in corrections and national organizations came together to pledge support.
5. We streamlined the reentry process.
By the end of 2023, reentry centers were up and running in 10 Department of Corrections facilities. At these one-stop shops, people preparing for release from incarceration can get help with: vital documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards; vocational certifications, employability skills and job searches; home plans and housing searches; child support and family reunification; and medical and behavioral health care plans. Staff have worked hard to create quiet, inviting spaces where residents can access computer labs, expert help and the resources they need to get set up for success. Farmington Correctional Center Maintenance Supervisor Leo Thomas was named Reentry Champion of the Year after spearheading a jaw-dropping transformation of an FCC building into a reentry center.
6. We became a national model for incentive-based housing.
Innovative staff have established honor dorms where participants with records of prosocial behavior live together in small communities with greater independence and freedom of movement. In the Dynamo program at Northeast Correctional Center, launched with 14 residents in April 2023, men incarcerated for decades live independently in an unstaffed housing unit, make their own schedules, maintain their own living space, come and go with their own gate keys, and enjoy a quiet existence they say is "like freedom." Designed under the guiding principle that responsibility breeds accountability, the Algoa Correctional Center Honor Dorm, which opened in April 2022, features a day room and recreation spaces, study rooms and a library, resident-led conflict resolution, and a spot at the front of the line for meals and premium jobs. Both facilities have seen a significant drop in conduct violations and a facility-wide boost in morale. Results were presented to other departments of corrections at regional and national conferences in 2023.
7. We boosted staff recognition.
Worksites throughout the state celebrated Missouri State Team Member Recognition Month in June and Corrections Employee Appreciation Week in September with barbecues, game tournaments, prize giveaways, team-building activities and more. For all government employees, the state introduced the MO Appreciation network offering formal and informal recognition opportunities and the MO Cred digital platform for awarding department-specific digital badges, such as Peer Action Care Team (PACT), Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT) and The Corrections Way Ambassador badges. Throughout the year we recognized exceptional staff with Employee of the Month awards for accomplishment ranging from going out of their way to help colleagues and intervening in mental health crises to keeping contraband out of prisons and changing clients' lives.
8. We upgraded dining.
Aramark Correctional Services moved in as our new head chef, taking over food service as a contracted vendor and giving offender-workers a chance to complete apprenticeship programs and earn professional certifications. For staff, the change came with multiple perks. Food service staff gained an opportunity to earn a higher salary. And all staff at prisons and transition centers gained access to newly renovated staff cafés where they now can shop at a grab-and-go market or order freshly prepared meals at the grill while unwinding with colleagues in a relaxing environment.
9. We invested in employee support.
The department’s fiscal year 2024 budget included $5.9 million for additional employee health nurses, front-line supervisors and human resources specialists as well as ongoing staff well-being programs and services. The Division of Human Services created an Employee Support Unit, whose members help staff with matters affecting their day-to-day lives, providing guidance and connecting staff to the resources they need. Each facility has an employee support specialist, who also serves nearby probation and parole staff. To keep a focus on self-care, throughout the year, the wellness team launched health blitzes addressing chronic illnesses, held wellness challenges built around financial, spiritual and occupational wellness, and hosted benefits and wellness fairs attended by hundreds of team members.
10. We educated more Missourians.
Each month of 2023, more than 3,000 incarcerated students were enrolled in the department’s academic education program, and they boasted a 100% pass rate on the HiSET high school equivalency exam. We extended career and technical education to add manufacturing technology, telecommunications and tattooing to programs already in place and serving 325 students at 10 facilities. The 2023 expansion of federal Pell Grants for incarcerated students fueled more partnerships in higher education; each semester approximately 900 students are enrolled in degree programs through Washington University, Rockhurst University, St. Louis University, Lincoln University, Missouri State University–West Plains, Central Methodist University, Ozark Technical College, Hannibal-LaGrange University and Ashland University.
11. We earned recognition for supporting the military.
Corrections looks out for those who serve our country while also serving our state. In 2023, Missouri Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) presented the Missouri Department of Corrections with the Seven Seals Award in recognition of our support and advocacy for members of our team who are in the National Guard or Reserves. K9s on the Frontline Missouri recognized Puppies for Parole and Boonville Correctional Center P4P graduate Max with a Show Me Honor Award; after training at BCC, Max completed the University of Missouri Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) Uniting Veterans with Service Dogs program and then went to work as a service dog with a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.
12. We recommitted to our mental health.
In 2023, the department established a team to operate and expand Post Critical Incident Seminars (PCIS), three-day intensively focused therapeutic events designed to assist corrections personnel who have experienced traumatic stress following involvement in a serious incident. Seminars held in May and October 2023 served 59 staff members, as well as 52 of their companions, with participants reporting a significant decrease in traumatic stress symptoms 90 days after the PCIS session. Organizers have planned for four sessions in 2024. In 2023, the department also awarded special honors for Peer Action Care Team (PACT) members, bestowing the PACT Member of the Quarter award to those who go out of their way to help colleagues who need support.
13. We made spiritual connections.
2023 marked 180 years of prison chaplaincy in the state of Missouri. It also marked the third year of Hannibal-LaGrange University peer ministry training at Jefferson City Correctional Center, where 38 students enrolled in the Christian studies bachelor’s degree program. In the summer, Major League Baseball legends Darryl Strawberry and Willie Aikens joined Prison Fellowship at Boonville and Tipton Correctional Centers to share their stories of personal transformation; both athletes struggled with addiction and spent time in prison and now minister to others. Staff and residents at six facilities took part in the faith-based 2023 Global Leadership Summit (GLS), a 30-year-old worldwide leadership seminar wherein speakers inspire attendees to become catalysts for change in their communities. Missouri mosques donated 350 boxes of dates to the religious and spiritual programming unit for the observance of Ramadan by more than 1,500 facility residents. And throughout the year and throughout the state, Rise Up Prison Ministries and other faith-based organizations held services, concerts, fellowship events and other gatherings to address the spiritual needs of residents..
14. We brought families together.
In 2023 we continued incentive-based programs that help better connect families to their incarcerated loved ones: Algoa Honor Dorm residents enjoyed Family Restoration Day outdoor yard visits with their families, where they played sports, had picnics, took walks and enjoyed time together, while Boonville Correctional Center (BCC) increased visits through its Empowering Dads Embracing Fatherhood program, in which kids get to spend one-on-one time with their dads on special visit days. To keep people connected electronically, we introduced video visits, during which family members can talk with residents through a video kiosk, and added a phone app to residents' computer tablets, which they can use to make phone calls from their cells, without having to wait in line to use a communal phone.
15. We gave big.
Corrections staff are among the most generous people in the state of Missouri. During the most recent Missouri State Employees Charitable Campaign, the Department of Corrections ranked highest in pledges among all state government agencies, raising $120,000 for charitable organizations, including Bikers Against Child Abuse, Harmony House and The Pantry JC. In 2023, each worksite was allocated $500 to donate to a local school program, which they used to help fund criminal justice programs, step teams, alternative classrooms and programs promoting positive behavior. Staff also supported Special Olympics Missouri by dipping into icy Missouri waters during the Polar Plunge and braving the intense summer heat during the Torch Run.
16. We gave our best friends the royal treatment.
This year Puppies for Parole (P4P) marked 7,000 dog adoptions and welcomed 34 members of the global team from Royal Canin, who got to see firsthand the life-changing program that the company's donations of pet food and funding have supported for more than a decade. During a Dawg Days talent showcase, Jefferson City Correctional Center P4P participants showed off their skills for an audience of staff, residents, media and special guests. Author Christine Bertelson and photographer Jerry Naunheim Jr. released the book Puppies for Parole: Rescue, Rehabilitation and Redemption in Missouri’s Prisons, available to donors. At the Missouri Reentry Conference, Quality Control Manager and Puppies for Parole coordinator Jennifer Liebi shared the transformative effect P4P has on dog handlers, who earn a U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship certificate valid in all 50 states. Showing the long-term benefits of the program, P4P trainer and Backyard K9 owner Trey Dawson was recognized during the Columbia Missourian Progress Awards and earned a gold award from Community Votes Columbia.
17. We fed more Missourians.
In 2023, volunteers working in Restorative Justice gardens inside Missouri prisons grew 73,043 pounds of fresh produce for donation to food banks and other nonprofit organizations throughout the state, a 78% increase over the 2022 total. We expanded offender gardens, giving residents of some facilities the option to buy fresh produce in canteens. Restorative Justice participants held fundraisers to clear school lunch debt for students at area public schools. At the end of the year, the first class of seven students graduated from Missouri State University – West Plains with associate's degrees in agriculture, preparing them for careers in growing food.
18. We cracked down on contraband.
Determined to do all we can to keep drugs and other dangerous contraband out of Missouri state prisons, in 2023 we changed our publications ordering process to more effectively track the origins of books and periodicals received inside our facility and eliminate the introduction of drugs hidden inside or soaked into the pages of publications. Facility staff and investigators worked with local law enforcement to track, apprehend and refer for prosecution people attempting to bring illegal contraband into facilities. We also procured new body scanners, which will be used in entry search points in 2024 to check visitors, vendors, contractors and staff for weapons, drugs and other prohibited items.
19. We took a transition center to the next level.
A year after opening its doors, the Transition Center of Kansas City, a residential probation and parole facility for men returning to the Kansas City area, boasted multiple successes, including job placements, program graduations and earning the Brick by Brick award from the Kansas City Industrial Council. Approximately 60 men live at TCKC, where they learn interpersonal skills through the Center for Conflict Resolution, gain employability skills through partners such as Goodwill Industries International and Connections to Success, and develop life skills through classes in areas ranging from financial management to yoga. Governor Mike Parson visited the center in April to congratulate the team and meet with residents.
20. We showed off our honor guard.
This year, Missouri hosted the national meeting of the annual Correctional Peace Officers Foundation (CPOF) Project 2000, and the Missouri Department of Corrections Honor Guard represented the department in St. Louis. Since 1990, CPOF has held the annual four-day event to memorialize corrections professionals who lost their lives in the line of duty during the preceding year. Honor Guard members also attended the National Peace Officer's Memorial Service on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C., where they honored the memory of Probation & Parole Officer John Luck, who died in December 2021.
21. We wrapped up a big research project.
2023 marked the final year of the Prison Research and Innovation Network (PRIN) project, a grant-funded, evidence-based research project designed to improve living and working conditions inside our prisons. Missouri was one of five states chosen to take part in PRIN, which was funded by Arnold Ventures, managed by the Urban Institute and undertaken in collaboration with the University of Missouri School of Social Work at Moberly Correctional Center. Innovations emerging from this work included a vegetable garden for residents, a decompression space for staff, honor visits for families, and an enhanced understanding of academic research and community collaboration for all participants. PRIN Manager Dana Cafourek presented the project to corrections leaders from throughout the country at a national Correctional Leaders Association conference in February.
22. We said goodbye.
At the end of 2023, Director Anne Precythe and Deputy Director Matt Sturm retired from exemplary careers in public service. Precythe had served as director since January 2017, following a 30-year career in the North Carolina Division of Community Corrections. Sturm had served the department for more than 28 years. Under their leadership, the department implemented dozens of major innovations to advance our mission, including a custom workplace-culture model and supervisory support system; investment of nearly $175 million in staff pay raises; new staff health, safety, wellness, and trauma services; transformation of staff training and development; measurable improvements in staff morale, recruitment, and retention; Justice Reinvestment programs supporting more comprehensive and effective probation and parole supervision; reentry programs, reentry centers, and transition centers preparing Missourians for post-incarceration success; and data-informed decision-making and evidence-based practices.
23. We welcomed new leaders.
In December, Governor Mike Parson named Trevor Foley acting director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, effective Dec. 6. Two deputy directors were appointed, and Travis Terry and Valarie Moseley have taken on these roles. Foley has worked in state government for 24 years, including 13 in the Department of Corrections, most recently as director of budget and finance. Terry began his career in the department in 2010 and has served as education supervisor, education manager and Missouri Vocational Enterprises administrator as well as director of the Division of Offender Rehabilitative Services and the Division of Adult Institutions. Valarie Moseley joined the department in 2019 and has served as assistant division director for employee health and safety and director of the Division of Offender Rehabilitative Services. All three of these leaders have been integral to guiding and supporting positive changes in the department, and they have big plans for 2024.