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prison

In the foreground is Missouri's newest prison, the maximum security Jefferson City facility. In the background is the medium security Algoa Correctional Center. (AP photo)

JEFFERSON CITY — Nurses who work in Missouri’s prison system say they too are owed potentially millions of dollars in back pay, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

In a 20-page suit filed in federal court, a trio of nurses who work for a contractor at the state’s lockup in Licking alleged they have not been paid for work they do once they arrive at the prison.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status covering all current and former nurses in the sprawling Missouri Department of Corrections facilities.

The case mirrors one in which a Cole County jury found that 13,000 current and former correctional officers were owed $113.7 million because the state wasn’t paying them when they entered a prison’s security envelope, even though they were expected to respond to incidents once inside.

The bill for that case has grown by at least $12 million while the state appeals.

Unlike the case brought by the guards, the nurses are suing a private company that has been contracted out by the state to provide health care for inmates.

Corizon, which has similar contracts across the country, has been paid more than $1.1 billion by the state since 2012.

The company did not respond to questions from the Post-Dispatch.

It wasn’t immediately clear if state taxpayers would be on the hook if Corizon is found to have violated the law.

“The department contracts with Corizon Health to provide all offender medical care. Corizon handles its own staff payroll,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Karen Pojmann.

The lawsuit alleges nurses worked between 2.5 hours and 4 hours, 10 minutes of overtime each week because they weren’t given credit for the time they spent entering and exiting the prison.

Like prison guards, nurses have to go through a search and a metal detector, turn over cellphones, tablets and any personal property when they enter a facility.

In addition, nurses must secure drugs and other medical items before they begin or end their shifts.

In the case brought by the officers, a state appeals court recently upheld the lower court’s decision, saying the officers should be paid for that transition period because threats against them are “real, formidable, and of such nature as to require diligent attention and readiness to intervene.”

The nurses say Corizon requires all nurses to “remain on duty until relieved by the on-coming shift and all medication and/or instrument counts have been cleared and all other shift duties as assigned.”

“Corizon is aware of its obligation to pay (nurses) for all hours worked, including pre- and post-shift activity, but has failed to do so,” Chesterfield attorney Gary Burger wrote in the lawsuit.

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