(CAMERON, Mo.) An inmate-rights advocate is calling on the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) to take another look at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron.
The prison has been on lockdown since an inmate riot in May destroyed parts of the building. Directly following that night prison inmates were not allowed visitation, time outside their cells, or phone calls. Food came in the form of boxed meals.
Officials then moved Crossroads to a modified lockdown. Under this new status, inmates had limited visitation and 30 minutes a day outside their cells.
Latahra Smith is a licensed private investigator in Missouri and she founded the non-profit advocacy group KC Freedom Project. Inmates have reached out to Smith asking for her help.
“Inmates are very upset because the things we talked to the Department of Corrections about, they still have not been done,” said Smith.
She met with a group of inmates and corrections officials for a town hall at Crossroads in July. The inmates vented frustrations and expressed concerns about how they were being treated. The town hall was the result of a meeting she had with Anne Precythe, the director of the state prison system.
"We had high hopes," Smith said. "But things that we were told they were going to do, is not going as planned."
She has been recording conversations with inmates and their families. She then posts the recordings to Facebook to raise awareness. In one recorded conversation, an unnamed inmate said he wanted to be transferred out of the prison.
Access to Legal Materials
“They are not allowing us, you know, to use the legal room library,” the inmate said. “The guys got to file their cases, they got deadlines."
Smith said she was previously told by officials that inmates could not go to the library because of the lockdown. However, inmates could request legal materials from the librarian and take those into their cell. In the recording, she asks the inmate whether that was happening.
“She don’t even know what to look for Ms. Smith,” the inmate said.
No Hot Meals
Inmates also reported to Smith they are still receiving boxed meals nearly two months after the riot.
“No hot meals,” the inmate said to her. “We are getting two peanut butter-jelly sandwiches a day. Along with a frozen baloney or pastrami meat."
Smith said one hot meal a day is one of the things she asked the department about.
DOC spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said the riot caused significant damage to the kitchen and dining areas. She said work is still being done to repair those areas including the installation of custom security doors.
“The installation of each door takes a long time,” Pojmann said. “We can’t have inmates cooking in rooms without proper security.”
Limits to Visitation
Limited visitation at the prison started the weekend of Aug. 10.
Smith said she was optimistic about the progress with visitation but she had concerns too.
For one, she wanted clarity about the criteria Crossroads staff is using to approve visits. Inmates tell Smith they are allowed only one visit per month. In Smith’s audio recording with the inmate, he said each week about 16 people from each unit are approved for visits.
But that’s not her only concern. Smith said even when she is working on the legal case of one of the inmates, she has been denied visits.
“I have been blocked from my clients,” she said.
Pojmann said she would look into issues with the law library and visitation.
Transition off of Lockdown
Pojmann said the prison is gradually transitioning off of lockdown but it is based on the success of each step.
As to when the lockdown will be lifted, Pojmann said: “Coming off a lockdown gradually is critical for the safety of officers and offenders.”
Smith said she would continue to mediate between the community, the inmates and the department. She agreed to type a synopsis of inmate complaints to give to Pojmann and Director Precythe. She said she hopes by doing that concerns will be communicated all the way up the DOC chain.
“Give a person a chance to do right and when they don’t do right, you know, then you have to handle your business,” Smith said. “That’s basically the position the DOC has put these people in.”