Inmates complain about lack of clothing, toiletries and other items in Missouri prisons | law and order

JEFFERSON CITY — While Gov. Mike Parson turns to a task force to help solve ongoing supply chain issues, one of his own departments is addressing bottlenecks caused by pandemic-driven changes in the economy.

At the Missouri Department of Justice, stores where inmates can buy snacks, clothing and toiletries have routinely had empty shelves since COVID-19 sent shockwaves through the shipping and manufacturing sectors.

“Over the last two years, the department has experienced temporary supply chain bottlenecks at various times for almost everything sold in the canteens, but fortunately the bottlenecks have generally not affected multiple items at once,” said DOC- Narrator Karen Pojman.

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

Curry, who campaigns for inmates and prison staff, said inmates are struggling to get food and toiletries, as well as clothing.

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“In some cases, the only winter clothing available was a size small or 4X,” said Curry, a Joplin resident. “In Bonne Terre, prison staff were allowed to buy items for the commissariat from other sources to stock the stores.”

Last year, she said prison officials attributed the low supply to high demand after inmates received stimulus checks from the federal government as part of the pandemic response.

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

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

Retailers across the country are struggling to keep shelves stocked with all kinds of everyday necessities, slowing down the production and distribution of goods. At the same time, consumer demand remains robust.

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

The supplier for the commissioners is the Bridgeton-based Keefe Group, which according to its website supplies more than 650,000 prisoners across the country and supplies a range of items for the shops, from tuna cans to extra underwear. They have a range of cellblock-enabled electronics including CD players, wristwatches, and clocks.

As of 2019, the Keefe Group has received more than $2.4 million from Missouri for its work, according to state payrolls.

The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In Illinois, Keefe recently lost his contract with the prison system because of problems with the bidding process.

Supply problems have also impacted commission articles in Illinois, where prison advocates say widespread shortages are common.

According to a December Report by WBEZInmates see that supplies of detergent, socks, boxers and shirts have been depleted for several months.

To address the shortage, the Illinois Department of Corrections gave out about $25 worth of free care packages containing toiletries and food to prisoners.

In Missouri, inmates are most frustrated by the lack of shoes, televisions, chips and soda, Pojmann said.

However, she added: “The procurement team has found other vendors with available inventory to provide temporary workarounds or acceptable alternatives where possible. Sometimes they even contacted warehouses across the country on a daily basis to find out what products were in stock and place orders immediately.”

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

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

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