Although editorial comment has not been prolific regarding the fires and riots at the prison since Sept. 22, a survey of Missouri papers puts the blame on a penurious policy on the part of Missouri.
Editorials gleaned from St. Louis, Springfield, Hannibal, Boonville and Cape Girardeau point to lack of state funds with which to operate and police the penal institutions.
Comments on the disturbances at the prisons was found as follows:
Prison Fund Needed
Hannibal Courier-Post: Missouri's recurring troubles with its over-size state penitentiary stem largely from the lack of funds which would enable the prison to "do what a penal institution should do," an eminent authority has declared in discussing the latest outbreak at Jefferson City.
Dr. Paul G. Steinbicker, director of St. Louis University's department of government and a member of the state Personnel Advisory Board, has conferred with state penal authorities and studied the conditions. He is convinced that the state has been trying to operate its huge prison on too little money. There are not enough guards and many of those employed are too old for the duties they must perform, he pointed out in an interview after last week's double outbreak.
For instance, he quoted figures showing that 27 of the 240 guards are of ages ranging from 70 to 79 years and 44 others from 60 to 69. As to pay, Dr. Steinbicker said in a recent survey he made, he was informed that although authorized to pay up to $206 a month, the penitentiary lacks funds to pay higher salaries than $170. Most guards are getting the minimum of $154 a month.
Recently the advisory board, of which Dr. Steinbicker is a member and which administers the merit system for about half of the state's employees, including all those in the department of corrections except the director, recently recommended the salary range for prison guards be increased from a minimum of $170 to a maximum $222, effective next July 1.
Fund increases recommended to adjust these salaries were refused in the legislature's last session.
Dr. Steinbicker quoted an instance which touched directly on the first riot of a few weeks ago that resulted in four persons being killed. An elderly guard, he said, entered a prisoner's cell when the latter feigned illness, although this was directly in violation or orders. The convict was able to seize the guard's keys, thus starting the riot.
Studies and investigations reveal the need for not only more adequate forces of guards and other employees but for younger men who can be given training to fit their posts. Checks of other prisoners have revealed that this is a necessity. This, of course, calls for a larger penal budget.
Tension in the Penitentiary
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Although last Friday's disturbance at the Missouri Penitentiary was comparatively light—no one was hurt and damage was minor—it serves to emphasize forcefully the existence of a serious problem at Jefferson City.
As a result in part of the destructive riot of a month ago close to 3000 convicts are sitting around in enforced idleness. Moreover there is little prospect that conditions at the penitentiary can or will be much improved until after the first of the year when the new Legislature opens.
Under the circumstances it is little wonder that tension is high, that any spark is enough to set the place into an uproar. There are troublemakers enough inside the walls without the work of prison administrators being made more difficult by irresponsibility from without.
A survey of the penitentiary's operations and its needs is expected to get under way within a week. That ought to be the basis of a comprehensive legislative program for early consideration by the next General Assembly. Until the Legislature acts conditions at the penitentiary are likely to remain subnormal. That is too bad, but facts are facts. After all it was the convicts, themselves who burned down the prison shops.
Missouri Bows In Humiliation
Cape Girardeau Missourian: The third mass rebellion in a month broke out in Missouri's penitentiary last Saturday with one dead, 37 injured, much damage to property. Yesterday the trouble started again. Guards, highway patrolmen who are kept on an alert status, city policemen were rushed in, a few shots were fired and no telling what else happened and no telling what will happen next.
In the first outbreak four prisoners were killed, 30 men were injured, from three to seven million dollars damage to property was estimated, highway patrolmen were called from all parts of the state, the National Guard was called in, a company of experienced policemen from St.Louis rushed to the front and so on. It was the worst thing of the kind ever known in the state.
After comparative quiet was restored the Governor announced the 3000 men would be denied newspapers, magazines, radios, recreation, etc. No quarter would be given the men until peace had been restored, it was announced. Naturally this meant fuel for another fire, commentators said.
The second outbreak created more noise than anything else, the reports said. One convict was killed, some others were wounded in general fighting, much property was destroyed.
What is all this trouble about? Or, what caused the rioting, people around the United States are wondering.
Most of the talk has been about poor food, but the convicts have not been very talkative on this point.
The prison was built for a maximum of 2500 men and it has been reported that over 3000 are crowded in.
The appointment of a new Board of Pardons and Probation recently aroused the first noticeable discontent among the convicts. Shortly after three former state highway patrolmen and one civilian were appointed to take the places on the board long held by ordinary men, reports gained circulation that the convicts decided this was a step to tighten up the usual service of granting clemency. In reporting this a radio commentator said he had talked with a prison employee who had been there a long time and was told that most anything could be expected at any time. The prisoners took this to mean that there would be fewer releases and therefore the crowding would grow worse.
At about the same time reports were heard that guards who felt they were underpaid and were otherwise neglected, talked with prisoners who were also displeased and at least agreed with them that something should be done, instead of warning them not to start anything. Consequently the outbreak came as no surprise to many persons who are in one way or another "in the know."
It has long been known that the employees of the penal and eleemosynary institutions are the lowest paid and the least considered servants of the state. Even many of the high state officials have long talked of this situation but none have ever been known to make a determined effort to correct it.
The whole mess is so deep-seated that no one cause seems responsible for the great disgrace that has befallen our beloved state. This seems to be the consensus of those who are best known in the handling of penal affairs and for this reason it will not be an easy matter to get notable men to serve on a commission to study the problem and advise the best methods of getting the penal and eleemosynary systems on a sound basis.
State officials and members of the legislature are responsible for what is now happening. This does not mean every official and every legislator has been negligent. But it means that the high officials, so far as is known, have never made an effort to correct the inhumane conditions that are now making Missouri bow her head in shame.
Who Is to be Blamed?
Springfield Leader and Press: Three riots in the Missouri penitentiary in recent months and an incipient one quashed by prompt action yesterday. Five convicts killed, 67 injured, property loss ranging from $3 million to $5 million. And whose fault is it?
Our own, in part—most certainly. Public and political indifference cannot be excused. Don W. Bunker, sociologist and the executive secretary of the Board of Probation and Parole ironically notes:
"It has always amazed me, the interest the public has in crime, and the apathy it has toward convicts."
Examine the facts, as pointed out by Warden Eidson: There are 230 paid guards in the state penitentiary and there should be a minimum of 300. But that tells only half the story. Of those 230 only 47 are younger than 50 years; 89 are between 50 and 60; 67 are between 60 and 70, and 27 are older than 70. Further, four of those oldest guards are over 79 years old.
Remembering that this force of guards must deal with 2700 of the state's most vicious and hardened criminals, what kind of competence can the public expect of men this old?
The answer then—Fire the guards? Hire young ones? What kind of help does Missouri expect for the salaries paid?
An hundred thirty of those guards are drawing $154 a month; 15 earn $162, and 85 receive $170 a month–the highest salary paid. What kind of personnel can the state expect at such a penurious salary rate?
Whatever the public may expect, here is what it is getting: smuggling, gambling, loan shark rackets, even calculated trouble making within the prison. Dope, arms, liquor, money—all are being smuggled inside the prison by guards trying to augment their tiny salaries to minimum cost of living standards.
The reason is clear–the legislature won't appropriate enough money to raise wages or hire more guards. Evidence of this was seen in the legislature's refusal last spring to vote $39,345 requested by Governor Donnelly to permit pay raises to prison guards.
So the state has economized and skimped along for years with its prisons.
A Penurious Policy is Costly
Boonville Daily News: The state's penurious policy in paying its prison guards is "paying off" now.
For many years guards at the state penitentiary, as well as at other penal and correctional institutions, have been underpaid. The result has been discontent among the guards, inability to find persons qualified for the jobs, and, lack of rehabilitation for prisoners.
A little over a month ago a riot erupted and cost of the damage done was enough to have raised the pay of the guards decent levels for some time.
Last weekend other disturbances broke out, both at the major prison and at the women's division. Even now only an uneasy truce has settled over the institution.
The truce is being maintained by armed guards and members of the State Highway Patrol.
No one can argue with the governor's action in sending troopers to the prison to aid in keeping the peace. But in doing so they were pulled off the roads where they are needed to curb reckless drivers and, in doing so, save lives, and prevent injury and property damage.
When you total up the costs the damages at the prison and then add to it the losses through traffic accidents that could have been prevented had the troopers been on the highways instead of at the prison anyone could see that poorly paid prison guards are costly.
What Other Editors Say
St. Louis Globe-Democrat: The Missouri Penitentiary is a graduate school for crime, where convicts have the expert instruction and advice of hardened fellow inmates. They have plenty of time to learn new techniques of felony. Instead of providing competent rehabilitation programs, the institution often serves as a vocational college of iniquity.
Such at least is the grim description of state prison life given by a young ex-convict before TV panel of criminologists. Released since the recent penitentiary riot, the masked former inmate declared, when he attended auto mechanics school at the prison, he was taught how to crack a safe by a convict instructor.
Most of us realize, when we take the trouble to think about it, that mixing a younger, less hopeless prisoner with incorrigible criminals breeds future crime. Similar conditions exist sometimes to a worse extent, in the prisons of other states. Some states, however, are trying to do something about it. Missouri is not.
There is an effort at segregation in the Jefferson City prison. It is not adequate. The guard system is miserably inadequate.
The former convict, in his blunt talk of prison facts, ascribe the penitentiary riot— which caused four deaths, injury to 31 and building damage of about $3,000,000—to idleness, too much reliance by authorities on stool pigeons, poor medical attention, and badly prepared food. Many will argue that there is an insufficient number of doctors and psychiatrists on the penitentiary staff. Whether the food is a justified cause of complaint, we don't know. Stool pigeons are used in every institution.
But the idleness of inmates is a classic reason for riots and crime tutoring among prisoners. It is of every penal institution and it must be dealt with.
That does not mean "sweat shop" labor by prison numbers. It does mean inmates of such institutions should be put to work on reasonable time schedules. It means that the outcries of industry and private business, often made against prison goods, must be stopped. Certainly the prisoners could be set to production of materials, foods and clothing needed by the state in its operation. Idleness in prison spawns viciousness within the walls and paves the way for wider crime waves when inmates are released.
In the final analysis the whole problem is shunted back upon the apathy of the public which does not influence the Assembly to approve proper funds for prisons. That is where the blame belongs.