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Correction: Missouri editorial roundup story

November 29, 2017

In a Nov. 28 Missouri editorial roundup, an early version of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial erroneously stated that the Missouri State Highway Patrol has a backlog of at least 900 untested rape kits. The patrol says there are 56 untested rape kits, not 900. The larger number came from earlier court testimony and referred to untested kits linked to crimes against people and property.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Recent Missouri editorials

Recent Missouri editorials

By The Associated press

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 27

Time for Missouri to tackle its backlog of untested rape kits

No one appears to know how many untested rape kits are sitting around gathering dust on the shelves of police crime labs around the state — an appalling fact that should outrage all Missourians. By one accounting, there are 56 sitting in the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab, but that accounts for just a fraction of the probable statewide total.

No one knows because no one has cared enough, until now, to find out. Stop a moment to think about what that means. For each untested set of swabs and paraphernalia used to collect forensic evidence from a victim, there’s a woman who has undergone severe emotional and physical trauma. She’s waiting for justice to be served so a rapist can be put behind bars. She lives in constant terror knowing that, as long as the evidence goes untested, a predator remains at large, ready to attack again.

Her attacker has the comfort of knowing that the trail of evidence linking him to the crime is getting colder by the day. As his feelings of impunity grow, so does the likelihood that he’ll attack again. The failure of Missouri law enforcers and legislators to follow up only serves to embolden rapists.

Attorney General Josh Hawley has pledged a statewide audit to determine the exact number of untested rape kits remaining in local crime labs. The audit is an essential step toward ensuring that justice is served. Hawley — who is running for the U.S. Senate despite having served less than a year as attorney general — felt compelled to act on the backlog because reporting this month by the Columbia Missourian drew attention to the state’s embarrassing inaction.

Nationwide, more than 200,000 rape kits have gone untested, according to one foundation working to reduce the backlog. Missouri and Illinois are among 15 states and the District of Columbia that have failed to complete audits of untested rape kits. Only one state, Texas, has a GOP-dominated legislature motivated enough about this injustice to have enacted comprehensive statewide reforms aimed at reducing its backlog.

Spearheaded by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Congress passed Safer Act legislation in 2013, offering financial assistance to states that undertake audits and commit themselves to reducing their backlogs. Missouri has no excuse for leaving this money on the table. It has even less of an excuse for leaving victims in emotional limbo while their attackers enjoy their undeserved freedom.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 24

It’s time for the feds to step in at the Jackson County jail

A Jackson County corrections officer is fighting for his life, severely beaten and in critical condition after an attack by an inmate that lasted eight excruciating minutes.

How an assault that vicious could happen — and how it could continue for that long — must be explained.

In May, we suggested that the U.S Department of Justice might have to step in, given the longstanding problems at the Jackson County Detention Center. Now, we’re demanding a federal intervention.

Jackson County has shown that it cannot ensure the safety of corrections staff, nor the inmates who live at the jail, most of whom are awaiting trial. Questions must be raised about civil rights and due process. People in custody have the right to expect that their safety and security will be guaranteed.

Yet county officials have been unable to muster a sense urgency to address well-documented problems of overcrowding and insufficient staffing.

Worst of all, County Executive Frank White Jr. continues to dither, calling last week for yet another task force. White issued tepid comments, offering prayers and expressing concern, after the attack Wednesday evening by an inmate who is now charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.

County Legislator Crystal Williams’ comments were to the point: “I continue to question whether the current Corrections Department team is capable of running a safer facility for both officers and inmates,” she said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a new management team was put in place at the jail with promises of renewed accountability. What have they accomplished?

The legislature must begin an assessment of top jail officials’ job performance. The report must be released to the public for scrutiny as well.

Both Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and the Sheriff Mike Sharp are exasperated with conditions at the jail, horrified and frustrated by the continued violence.

In August, four inmates attacked another guard, leaving him with a concussion. In June, the FBI stormed the jail, busting up a ring of guards and inmates who were trafficking cellphones, drugs and other contraband. In January, a female inmate died, possibly due to a lack of medical help. Last summer, female inmates had to be moved to Platte County after alleged sexual assaults.

The jail is one component of the broader criminal justice system. When it is dysfunctional, the impact reverberates. The work of the prosecutor’s office is affected, as are the courts, as are sheriff’s deputies, police and of course, the public.

Justice cannot exist within a flawed criminal justice system. And the weak link here is clearly the county jail.

County leadership has proved to be ill-prepared or simply unwilling to take decisive action. Federal oversight is needed now.


The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Nov. 26

While we’re thankful the State Board of Education failed to fire Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven last week, we’re discouraged at the process that led to the vote.

Gov. Eric Greitens, for reasons that he’s never fully explained, has tried to fire Vandeven. But under the state Constitution, he can’t. The education commissioner serves at the pleasure of the State Board of Education. So Greitens has appointed members to the commission who he believed would do his bidding.

When two of those appointees apparently wouldn’t, he replaced them — a move some argue violated a state law that says state board members, once they’ve taken their oath of office, can be removed only after their term has expired or there has been a hearing on the reason(s) for removing them from the office.

No such procedure has occurred.

Ultimately, the board split a 4-4 vote Tuesday, failing to get the needed majority votes. On Tuesday, a statement by Greitens didn’t name her and included general criticisms about education in the state, including some decisions way out of Vandeven’s control.

He said while he supports public education, administrator pay has risen twice as fast as teacher pay. Several administrators in Missouri, he said, make $250,000 a year. Those salaries, however, are determined by local school boards. They base pay on supply and demand. Like it or not, top administrators command those salaries. If Missouri doesn’t pay them what they’re worth on the free market, they’ll go elsewhere.

Published reports say the governor wants Vandeven out, to replace her with a supporter of charter schools, which have had mixed results in Missouri.

Charter schools are public schools, but without all the requirements that “regular” public schools must meet.

So, some fear greater state support for charter schools could lead to a boost of funding for those schools in the state — at the expense of the rest of the public schools.

While we see some value in charter schools, we realize siphoning money from the existing public schools isn’t the answer.

Vandeven has been praised by various groups and individuals while her job has been on the line. She’s well-respected, and we see no reason to oust her.

In fact, even as the governor was jockeying to remove her as head of Missouri’s Elementary and Secondary Education Department, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) — a national group — this month elected Vandeven to its Board of Directors.

After last week’s failed ouster vote, State Board of Education President Charlie Shields — a hospital executive and former state Senate President pro tem — said no one was complaining about Vandeven’s job performance.

Some have said the issue could be raised again at the board’s meeting Friday.

But, if there is a valid reason to remove Vandeven from the commissioner’s job, the change needs to be made by a Board of Education whose members have been confirmed by the Senate. The ones recently appointed by Greitens are awaiting Senate confirmation, which won’t happen until the Legislature goes into session in January.

If the Board of Education reconsiders this issue, we ask it wait until its members are confirmed. Then, members in favor of firing Vandeven owe it to Missourians to explain why she should be replaced.

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