Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson announced Wednesday the formation of a special investigatory committee to examine allegations of harassment within the state Department of Corrections.

The department has come under increasing scrutiny after a November report in The Pitch detailing harassment and discrimination lawsuits in which prison employees alleged they suffered retaliation for speaking out against the mistreatment.

Just last year, two discrimination lawsuits against the Department of Corrections resulted injuries ordering the state to pay more than $3 million in damages to the victims.

Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, had promised to investigate the situation when lawmakers returned for the 2017 session. On Wednesday, he announced that Republican Rep. Jim Hansen of Pike County will lead the new investigatory panel.

“The harassment that has been uncovered within the department is completely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated,” Richardson said in a prepared statement.

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