A North Carolina woman with a career in probation and parole was named on Wednesday by incoming Gov. Eric Greitens to be the next director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, a department beset by widespread harassment and discrimination complaints.
Greitens announced on Facebook that he’d chosen Anne Precythe, the community supervision director of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, to replace George Lombardi. Her appointment requires confirmation from the state Senate.
Lombardi announced his resignation this month amid publicity that employees were the subject of ongoing harassment and retaliation for their complaints.
Greitens touted Precythe as part of a team of “reformers and outsiders” that will stock his administration. And he made clear that he sees her job as repairing a prison system that he sees as troubled.
“Missouri’s Department of Corrections is broken, and that puts public safety at risk,” the governor-elect said in his post. “Our corrections officers struggle in a culture of harassment and neglect, in a department with low morale and shockingly high turnover.”
A Greitens news release said Precythe has used “data and technology (to make the North Carolina) department leaner and more efficient” and created a program to help corrections workers deal with the violence they deal with on and off the job.
“Employees feel heard and appreciated,” the Greitens release said. “Because of Anne’s leadership, corrections officers are supported, and families know that their state prisons are well-run and secure.”
Striking that tone in the announcement comes in the context of fresh scrutiny of a department that drew unflattering attention when The Pitch published a story in late November about a series of harassment complaints lodged by women working in the department.
That prompted concerns in Jefferson City, and Lombardi announced on Dec. 15 that he was leaving. He said in an email that it was “with a heavy heart that I share with you my decision to retire/resign my position as director.”
“I now walk away with as much dignity as I can muster and with the advice to each and every one of you to stand tall and have great pride in all you do each and every day,” Lombardi said in his email.
Gov. Jay Nixon’s office then issued a statement saying that Lombardi would remain in office through the remainder of the Democratic governor’s term that ends Jan. 9, when the Republican Greitens is inaugurated.
Lombardi was nominated to his post by Nixon in 2008. He later became the focus of criticism after the Pitch story that detailed harassment and discrimination lawsuits against the department. Employees alleged they were retaliated against for speaking out against the mistreatment.
The prison system lost two cases and was ordered to pay more than $3 million this year alone in damages to the victims.
Debra Hesse was awarded $1.9 million and Janet Mignone was awarded $1.4 million, with both alleging gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The state has appealed both verdicts.
Legislative leaders, including House Speaker Todd Richardson, said the department would be the subject of tough scrutiny in the legislative session that starts in January.
Calls to Precythe’s North Carolina office were referred to the Greitens operation, which didn’t respond to requests for an interview or more information about the prospective prisons boss.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder appointed her to a three-year term on the National Institute of Corrections Advisory Board in mid-2015.
Her corrections career began in 1988 as a probation and parole officer. She later served in various administrative roles for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.
In March 2013, she took over that state’s community corrections division. Its website says it “works to protect the safety of citizens in communities throughout the state by providing viable alternatives and meaningful supervision to offenders placed in our custody.”
In that role, she oversaw about 2,500 probation-and-parole officers, managers and support staff monitoring more than 105,000 offenders under court order but not held in prison.