Many criminal justice agencies have traditionally functioned as closed systems, resulting in a self-reliant posture that encourages only limited outside interaction—usually only with other law enforcement agencies. This independence has resulted in weak community relations and blocked opportunity for feedback and improvement, leaving many issues and concerns unresolved. It has also promoted a feeling of alienation and lack of confidence with constituent groups including victims, volunteers, visitors, staff, legislators, inmates, and advocacy groups. Over time, this cultural barrier has made itself known in a variety of ways such as increased inmate litigation, court involvement in department operations, conflicting information, internal duplication of effort, and poor public relations. The Missouri Department of Corrections has significantly improved the management of complaints and conflict through the creation and development of an Office of Constituent Services.
When Director Dora Schriro established the Constituent Services Office in January of 1994, the department was facing many challenges. The Constituent Services Office was charged to quickly fix the root causes of legitimate complaints about the department's operations, to improve communication with and services to customers, and to reduce the costly duplication of staff time spent responding to inquiries routed to a variety of offices. The efforts of Constituent Services Office staff resulted in a better operation and a more positive relationship with the public.
Between January 1, 1994, when the office opened, and through calendar year 1996, the Constituent Services Office responded to 1,351 inquiries received by the Governor's Office; 2,728 inquiries from state representatives and senators; 4,532 from inmate family members and friends; 4,458 from inmates; 266 from other state agencies; 267 from inmate advocate agencies; and 121 from other sources. These contacts, a total of 13,723 inquiries, were addressed expediently and courteously, providing better service to both customers and stakeholders.
In another indication of the success of the Constituent Services Office, the Missouri Attorney General's Office reports pending lawsuits against the department have been reduced by 73 percent or 1,241 suits even though the prisoner population increased 46 percent during that same period. This resulted in a minimum savings of $2,482,000 in attorney fees to Missouri taxpayers; duplication of correction's staff input has been reduced which has eliminated the need to hire additional full time staff; and, inmate assaults and grievances have not increased with inmate growth because legitimate complaints are immediately and effectively resolved by the Constituent Services Office. Notably, the public's perception about the department's operation has greatly improved which can be verified by the consistent feedback received from our constituency. The creation of this office has served the Department of Corrections, as well as all Missouri residents, by saving tax dollars that can now be used for other purposes.