Statement Regarding General Assembly Members' Visits to Correctional Centers

Oct. 6, 2021

The Missouri Department of Corrections not only welcomes but encourages visits from members of the Missouri General Assembly. Collaborations with elected officials lead to legislation, programs and policies that can improve outcomes for incarcerated and supervised Missourians and build better work conditions for our staff. Representative Collins has visited multiple Missouri Department of Corrections institutions, where administrators and staff have happily accommodated her visits, answered her questions and discussed the operations of their facilities.

On the evening of Oct. 5, Representatives Collins and Anderson arrived at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center (ERDCC) unannounced at a time when the facility was in lockdown and the state’s protocol for a court-ordered execution already had been activated. This court-upheld protocol is carefully timed and deliberate, with each participant carrying out a precise and scripted role toward the common goal of ensuring the safety and security of those inside the facility while preserving the dignity of the offender and victims involved in the case.

Disrupting or altering the protocol to accommodate an unannounced last-minute visit not only would have entailed a deviation from the court-ordered procedures underway but also would have compromised the safety, security and privacy of ERDCC residents, staff, medical personnel and visitors — including witnesses for and family members of Ernest Johnson and his three victims, Mary Bratcher, Fred Jones and Mabel Scruggs. It was not possible to simultaneously safely carry out the protocol and accommodate a spontaneous visit from anyone who did not already have an assigned role that day.

Members of the General Assembly may serve as witnesses to any execution by submitting an application to the Office of the Director, and many state legislators have chosen to serve this role. The Missouri State Supreme Court issued the warrant for Johnson’s execution on June 29, 2021, providing ample time (14 weeks) for prospective witnesses to apply to be present during the execution and providing ample time (14 weeks) for legislators to visit the facility, meet with staff and offenders, and voice any concerns. Representatives Collins and Anderson chose not to visit the facility in advance. Instead they arrived within an hour of the execution that had been ordered 14 weeks earlier.

On the evening of Oct. 5, the representatives were invited to return to the facility at 8 a.m. the following, day, Oct. 6. They did not return.