By Sara Maslar-Donar
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s incarceration rate is the eighth highest in the nation, and according to state data, it’s not losing that rank anytime soon.
According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, Missouri’s population growth is projected to grow 5 percent in the next five years. Under current trends, MDOC will be 2,351 prison beds short of needed capacity by 2021. The cost for taxpayers to lock up an inmate in a state prison is at least $20,000 a year.
In July, the Justice Reinvestiment Task Force kicked off its review of the state criminal justice system, and continued that review at its meeting Wednesday.
Governor Eric Greitens established the task force by executive order on June 30. The task force, made up of stakeholders from across the criminal justice system, will use a data-driven approach to nail down exactly how the state can curb prison population growth and save millions of dollars.
Missouri previously used a justice reinvestment approach in 2011 that saw limited success. The legislature enacted some bills as a result, but the prison population continued to increase.
According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG), which is the nonprofit organization collecting and analyzing original data for the task force, Missouri faces high costs because of overcrowding and recidivism rates. Women are also contributing to the fastest-growing population growth in prisons.
For example, the cost of building a new 1,636 bed facility in Chillicothe for women is about $175 million and the cost to operate the facility would approach $27 million annually.
CSG director of research Andy Barbee said the data shows two-thirds of everyone in the criminal justice system are on probation and parole. He said nearly two-thirds of people fail in the first 18 months of supervision and end up back in prison. A total of 49 percent of adults exiting parole in 2015 were returned to incarceration.
Wednesday’s meeting focused on the research and data CSG accumulated so far about these offenders, including recommendations of action for the task force.
Barbee said there is a road map that can be used to address what works in changing behavior of offenders, including assessment and triage of resources to highest risk, strengthening community based resource services and better structuring parole decision-making.
The current approach for supervision is compliance oriented, according to Barbee. He said the data shows that this isn’t going to change behavior, but merely allow offenders to work out what their officers want to hear and not make a change.
He suggested a more balanced approach, which would be geared toward the person as an individual and their personal risks.
The CSG Justice Center will provide more analysis over the next two months from its original research, as well as from data it collects from departments like the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety.
CSG will make two more presentations. The one in October will focus on crime and its effects in Missouri. The November presentation could revolve around county jail reimbursement. Missouri is one of the few states that reimburses counties for a portion of the defendant’s entire local jail time while the person’s case goes through the court system.
November will also be the start of CSG’s policy recommendations although it has already made a few recommendations, including ones at Wednesday’s meeting.
CSG will provide assistance and recommendations to the task force, which will then develop appropriate policy options in November and December to help increase public safety and contain the cost of corrections by its deadline.