Director of Operations' Jail Break Report to Mayor Ignores Stubblefield Memos

Updated 3:35 p.m. to show that Dotson expects to issue a follow-up report in a few weeks.
St. Louis City Justice Center - Image via
St. Louis City Justice Center

In his report to the mayor on "The Status of the Department of Corrections," dated September 29, Director of Operations Sam Dotson concludes, "I strongly believe that replacing the corrections commissioner is a necessary step to improve the two facilities." Although he adds that "everyone in the Department of Public Safety and Division of Corrections must and will be held accountable," it is particularly interesting (though not surprising) that he singles out commissioner Gene Stubblefield, who had been suspended two weeks earlier largely because of the rash of jail breaks at the St. Louis City Justice Center and the Medium Security Institution over the past fifteen months.

It is particularly interesting because most of Dotson's findings echo the warnings Stubblefield had been making in emails and memos since February. The content of those emails and memos was made public September 22.

Throughout Dotson's report, which was released by Mayor Francis Slay's office Friday, he does not mention that Stubblefield had come to similar conclusions months before and had conveyed his concerns to his superior, Department of Public Safety Director Charles Bryson. Moreover, the report blames Stubblefield for personnel decisions he was privately against but forced by Bryson to execute, such as the decision to leave so many management and officer positions vacant.

In a section suggesting "Corrective Action," Dotson's report states that a lack of leadership at the jails played a role in the escapes. Supervisors take the brunt of the blame.

"They failed to prevent escape because no one took charge," the report states. And then: "Supervisors will be held accountable when the men and women under their supervision fail to follow protocols." The report goes on to state that supervisors will now be required to keep written logs to ensure that protocol is consistently followed.

Supervisors, the report suggests, need to step their game up.

The report does not state, however, that owing to budget cuts many of the supervisor posts had been filled by correctional officers. On January 7, 2011, the city's Director of Personnel Richard Frank wrote a memo to Bryson conveying his concern about "corrections employees being worked out of their classifications," noting that corrections officers were working as shift supervisors and training officers.

It also does not state that a month later, Stubblefield, in a memo to Bryson, repeated Frank's worry that "we attempted to use senior ranking correctional officers in acting managerial roles to shore up the lack of middle manager positions to provide direct supervision of facility operations and security functions." He goes on to request that the managerial vacancies in corrections-- such as one Detention Center Superintendent and three Unit Managers-- be filled.

Most audaciously, Dotson blames Stubblefield for the vacancies. The report states, "The Commissioner of Corrections failed to fill vacant positions within his department." It cites these vacancies as one of the reasons for soaring overtime costs (the other main reason was the "very high use of Family Medical Leave.").

It does not mention that, in a February memo to Bryson, Stubblefield wrote that the 25 vacant Correctional Officer positions "must be filled in order to reduce overtime costs."

Dotson's report also ignores that, in April, Stubblefield pleaded with Bryson to fill vacant managerial positions. In an April 4 e-mail, he wrote:

"I am concern[ed] because corrections has los[t] numerous managers and supervisors over the years due to budget cuts. We have a major public safety responsibility and jails can become a dangerous place to live and work without an appropriate managerial staffing pattern. Please advise."

Ten days later, Stubblefield wrote in a memo to Bryson, "I am surprised at some of the above recommendations given our last email correspondence regarding the staffing of the FY12 Budget."

He added: "Your recommendations to reduce or amend the Divisions staffing pattern as noted above will impose serious restrictions on the Division's ability to provide the managerial oversight that is expected."

While Dotson cites a failure in leadership at the jails, he concludes that "the vacancies did not compromise security. The two facilities have had the right number of guards." But the report does not address the vacancies at the supervisor level, nor the effects of bumping officers up to managerial roles to compensate for these vacancies.

The report cites statements Stubblfield made publicly, such as when he told the Board of Aldermen's Ways and Means Committee in May "that all mandatory posts are covered." And yet there is no mention of the private concerns Stubblefield was conveying to his superior.

Dotson writes in the report that he expects to issue a follow-up in 45 days.

The Board's Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing to investigate the city's corrections division sometime in the next couple of weeks. Stubblefield, Dotson and Bryson are expected to testify.

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