JEFFERSON CITY - The director of the Corrections Department is taking heat from some lawmakers for paying $200 per hour of taxpayer money to her law school peers to investigate the medical complaints of prisoners.
Dora Schriro, the director, recently hired two doctors who are her classmates at St. Louis University Law School to review medical complaints against Correctional Medical Services, the health care provider for the department. Recently, families of inmates have come forward alleging negligent treatment in prisons by CMS.
"She's trying to cover up her tracks by hiring her friends to go in and look at the department," Rep. Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis, said.
Troupe, the chair of the House committee that appropriates the department's budget, said in a letter to Schriro that he didn't see where the doctors were funded in the department's budget.
According to Rep. Glenda Kelly, D-St. Joseph, if the two doctors were not originally budgeted for, then the money to pay for the doctors has to come from some other place. Kelly said the department must answer two questions: from where did they take the money for the doctors, and if they didn't take money away from something else, "why do they have extra money?" she said. She said neither question has been answered.
Sen. Larry Rohrbach, R-California, said hiring friends to conduct unbiased reviews looks shady.
"It appears to be a crony system," Rohrbach said.
"We need independent investigators," he said. "They work for her, they won't be independent."
Tim Kniest, department spokesman, said they put notices looking for doctors to conduct the investigations everywhere, but they received no reply. Finally, Schriro advertised at her school, he said.
Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed Schriro in 1993. Jerry Nachtigal, a spokesman for the governor, said Schriro's intentions were right.
"It appears the motivation is to improve health care of inmates and we certainly believe it's laudable," Nachtigal said.
Schriro attends law school at St. Louis University three nights a week. The lawmakers question if Schriro's law school commitment keeps her from her $92,952 per year job running the department.
"I am shocked that the governor would let her to go to law school," Rohrbach said. "I would've figured that for $92 thousand someone would be on call."
Rep. Don Summers, R-Unionville, said his eyebrows were raised when he heard that she was going to law school.
"She has a very demanding position with a salary that connects with the demands of the office," Summers said.
Kniest defends Schriro's law school enrollment, saying that all state workers are encouraged to pursue their educations.
"She is still in the office every business day and sometimes works more than 40 hours a week," he said.
Troupe said he will ask his committee to launch an investigation into Schriro's actions and he may even formally ask the governor for her resignation.
"It's time for a new director that's going to put the kind of time in the department that is necessary to correct the atrocities going on in the Missouri Department of Corrections," he said.
Nachtigal said the governor thinks Schriro is doing great.
"He (the governor) has full confidence in the running of the agency," Nachtigal said.