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Missouri Department of Corrections sees 25% increase in prisoner deaths this year

As of last week, 107 prisoners have died, which is more than the total number of annual deaths in 2018, 2019 and 2021


New corrections officers listen to instructors during continued correctional officer training in March of 2019, at the Northeast Correctional Center near Bowling Green, Mo.

Photo/J.B. Forbes of St. Louis Post-Dispatch via TNS

By Katie Moore
The Kansas City Star

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Corrections has seen a 25% increase in prisoner deaths this year, including the death last Monday of a Kansas City man who leaves behind two teenage children.

Antonio C. Jackson, 38, was found unresponsive on Oct. 17 at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. His brother Rosco Robinson said he was told Jackson died of a drug overdose, but an autopsy is pending.

The 38 year old was one of three people to die at the prison in Bonne Terre in eight days, according to corrections data.

As of Oct. 17, 107 prisoners have died in Missouri prisons, a 25% increase compared to the same time last year. It’s also more than the total number of annual deaths in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

In 2020, amid major COVID outbreaks, a total of 129 people died. This year is on pace to exceed 2020’s rate.

Drugs getting into prison

Jackson was convicted in 2014 in Jackson County of robbery, armed criminal action and kidnapping, and sentenced to 20 years.

Robinson said his older brother by three years had made mistakes. But he “really cared about his kids” and was “trying to be the best dad that he could be from behind bars,” Robinson said. Jackson’s children are 15 and 16 years old.

Jackson moved to Kansas City from Chicago when he was about 10 years old. He had a rough childhood, Robinson said, especially after their mother died.

Robinson said Jackson earned his GED and loved all sports, but basketball in particular.

He suffered more losses after his father and grandmother died.

Robinson questions how drugs are getting into Missouri prisons, especially since prisoners no longer receive physical mail.

On July 1, the department began routing letters to a mail center in Tampa, Florida, where it is scanned and then sent electronically to prisoners.

“I want the people who work there to be held accountable for letting drugs in,” Robinson said.

“There’s no way that anybody in prison should be able to buy any drugs or get any drugs in there.”

Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said the department is “always concerned about drugs.”

Drugs can get into facilities through visitors, vendors, attorneys and corrections staff, among other situations.

“It can even be dropped into a facility by drones or catapults,” Pojmann said.

“Anecdotally, many corrections professionals would say visitors are the primary source of contraband, but we really don’t know what the primary source is because often drugs aren’t found until they’re already inside the facility, at which point it can be difficult to trace the origins.”

Pojmann added that the department doesn’t have all the autopsy reports from deaths this year so they can’t draw conclusions about recent deaths.

Lori Curry, founder of the advocacy group Missouri Prison Reform, said the increase in deaths is “terrifying for those of us who have loved ones in prison.” She said some drugs are coming in through corrections officers, who need to be searched more thoroughly and paid better so they don’t resort to selling contraband.

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