Short Staffing Emboldens Prison Gangs, Puts Inmates at Risk, Says Bonne Terre Staffer

click to enlarge The Eastern Diagnostic and Reception Correctional Center in Bonne Terre - Ben Westhoff
Ben Westhoff
The Eastern Diagnostic and Reception Correctional Center in Bonne Terre

Thirty-one year-old Joshua Miley has been at the Bonne Terre prison since July 2020, when his parole was revoked for stealing and burglary convictions.

On February 5, Miley was attacked by four other inmates in his cell, stabbed more than 40 times and thrown over a railing, according to his mother. After being air-evaced to a hospital in St. Louis, he received 38 staples, more than 20 stitches and treatment for a punctured lung, he told us.

Anecdotal reports suggest such violence has grown increasingly common at Bonne Terre. The reason for this, a prison staff member tells the RFT, is because the prison is incredibly understaffed. In a prison with roughly 2300 incarcerated individuals, a single corrections officer is often responsible for nearly 300 inmates in a wing. As few as two corrections officers might be on duty in the dining hall while all of these inmates are eating, a time when attacks are especially likely to occur. Only 50 custodial staff are on hand at times.
When there is a violent assault, the staff is stretched so thin that oftentimes many can't respond, because doing so would leave key areas of the prison completely unguarded, says the Bonne Terre staffer, who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation by his employer.

In this atmosphere, gangs feel emboldened to settle scores, he adds.

"Gangs run that place," confirms Teresa Carter, the girlfriend of recent Bonne Terre inmate Luther Midgyett. She says he told her that when he arrived to Bonne Terre, gang members tried to shake him down for money.

Further, Midgyett, who is now serving time in Jefferson City Correctional Center for drug possession and distribution, says in February he was assaulted by Bonne Terre corrections officers in the snow while he was in handcuffs.

Midgyett tells the RFT that he filed multiple grievances about the incident but that "they disappeared."

"My report ended up in the hands of the same people I reported," he says. "There's only one side of the story that matters at the ERDCC."

The Bonne Terre prison, formally known as the Eastern Reception and Diagnostic Correctional Center, is a highly-trafficked institution, where almost everyone in the prison system in Eastern Missouri passes through. Beyond new prisoners, the facility also harbors inmates doing long-term bids for serious crimes.

As for Miley, who was violently attacked in his cell in February, he was returned to Bonne Terre after only two days in the hospital.

"They asked me if I wanted to go back to the general population and I told them no because next time I might not be so lucky," he tells us in a letter from prison.

His other potential choice? Administrative segregation, otherwise known as "solitary" or "the hole."

"They are keeping me in the hole for the next 90 days instead of putting me in protective custody,” Miley says, adding that this would allow him a relatively stable existence and be allowed access to recreation, “contact” visits from loved ones, and regular phone calls.

Instead, he says he is locked down 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He says he can make a phone call once every 60 days.
The Bonne Terre staff member tells us that administrative segregation is standard for inmates who are assault victims while a committee evaluates their situation, a process usually completed within thirty days.

Miley says he was told he could expect to be in the hole for three months.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWKrull.

About The Author

Ryan Krull

Ryan Krull is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times. Find him on Twitter @ryanwkrull
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