Department of corrections gets new director

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JEFFERSON CITY - After months of controversy over sexual harassment allegations, and a call by Missouri lawmakers to make major changes to its work environment, Missouri's Department of Corrections has a new leader.

The Missouri senate Thursday unanimously approved Anne Precythe as the new director of corrections for the entire state. 

Before being confirmed, Precythe addressed the House Committee on Corrections and Public Institutions. She used the opportunity to immediately address the sexual harassment allegations made by corrections employees. 

"It's going to become a new culture for corrections," Precythe said. "There's no room for sexual harassment anywhere in our society."

Precythe, a North Carolina native who has spent 29 years working in corrections, said addressing the allegations is her first priority. 

"This has been my primary focus, the harassment issues."

Precythe told the committee she has three main goals:

  • Zero Tolerance: When incidents of sexual harassment occur, they must all be reported and addressed
  • Safe Environment: Including leadership that is on the same page, consistent, reliable. Constant communication when such situations occur
  • Onboarding: Training new supervisors, improving morale, and hiring the best people for leadership roles

Precythe said she's prepared to do things differently, citing a belief in hiring the best candidates for leadership positions, even if that means they have less experience than other employees. 

"I want people who are going to change the culture," she said. "I am not a next-in-line promoter."

While Precythe was appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens, and approved by a Republican-led Senate, she has bipartisan support. Rep. Bruce Frank Jr., D-St. Louis, said he's excited to work with Precythe. 

"One great quality about Anne is that she's willing to listen. She knows that she doesn't have to answer to everything, but she's willing to try new things, creative and innovative things," Frank said. 

Precythe stressed the importance of employee-inmate engagement, and said corrections officers should serve as role models for inmates. For this to happen, she said, additional staff may be necessary.

"If we're going to ask our correctional officers to do more than just control and custody, they're going to have to have more time to spend engaging with the offender population," she said. 

Precythe said, by using techniques that work outside of prison walls, she's ready to change what's been called a toxic culture at the department.

“This is about a good working environment for all employees, regardless of what business you’re in. And that’s what I’m bringing back to Missouri," Precythe said.