By Tyler Wornell
Analyzing data could be the key to effectively reforming Missouri’s criminal justice system, which has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the nation.
That will be the goal of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force — established by Gov. Eric Greitens via executive order June 30 — as it uses a data-driven approach to recommend and implement policies to improve the effectiveness of Missouri’s prisons, reduce costs and increase public safety.
Part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) at the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the task force will receive data analysis from the Council of State Governments. Missouri joined the JRI program in 2012 but has reported no savings.
In its first meeting Tuesday, the task force was presented with data from the CSG outlining the current state of the criminal justice system in Missouri. The overall prison population grew by 6 percent from 2010-16 and is projected to grow another 5 percent by 2020.
Missouri has the largest growing female prison population in the nation, and 49 percent of prison admissions are offenders who violate their supervision by either a technical violation or law violation.
CSG Director of Research Andy Barbee said the two-part process — pre-enactment and post-enactment — will prioritize public safety. While the task force will analyze several sets of data, it will also engage with stakeholders to create comprehensive policy recommendations.
“It’s going to be complemented with the qualitative feedback by the people who work in the field every day,” Barbee said. “They can contextualize those data points in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be available.”
The CSG will collect data from the Department of Corrections, Department of Public Safety and the Missouri Office of Court Administration. Barbee said a lot of the data collection will be from original research, rather than reports already publicly available.
The JRI program isn’t new to Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe, who played a role in implementing policies in North Carolina when it joined in 2011. The state saved more than $160 million, its prison population declined by nearly 8 percent and 10 prisons were closed between 2011-15.
“I appreciate the value of implementation and the necessity to sustain whatever it is we implement,” Precythe said. “We’re not making change just to make change; we’re making change to be better at what we do.”
The Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections — which later turned into the Missouri Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Committee — was the first group to recommend changes to the Legislature in 2012 that were adopted in House Bill 1525.
The bill enacted earned compliance credits, which reduced offenders’ probation or parole sentence by 30 days for every full month they complied with conditions of their supervision. As a result, Missouri saw a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of supervision discharges from 2012-14.
The bill also created the Administrative Jail Sanctions program, which allowed offenders who violated their probation or parole to be placed in a county jail for a short time rather than have their supervision revoked. The Department of Corrections would reimburse the jail $30 per day the offender remained in the jail.
In its 2014 annual report, the commission said implementation of the jail sanctions program had been “extremely limited” because of a lack of funding and overcrowding at county jails. The Legislature appropriated $100,000 to the Department of Corrections for the program in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but funds were either never used or withheld by the governor.
Audrain County Commissioner Steve Hobbs said at Tuesday’s meeting the county is in the in the process of a $6 million jail expansion to meet Prison Rape Elimination Act standards and doesn’t have enough “bull pen” space, a temporary holding area.
“All of these things are just a constant drain on our resources,” Hobbs said. “I spend $4 million a year on our jail and our prosecutor’s office. That’s a third of our budget.”
While Missouri hasn’t had overwhelming success with the jail sanctions program, Precythe said she would like to explore it further because it had success in North Carolina.
“We have research reports in North Carolina about the success and which type of offender that program was most effective on,” Precythe said. “I need to understand why we didn’t use it statewide (in Missouri).”
Another policy Precythe said she is interested in discussing is requiring all offenders to be placed on a period of supervision after their release, another policy implemented in North Carolina. The post-prison supervision population there increased by more than 350 percent from 2010-15.
“If we’re giving (offenders) good guidance and skill sets in prison and then they come out and they don’t have anyone to follow them and assist them, how can they get the help they need?” Precythe said.
The CSG team will visit facilities across the state to observe department operations and collect data throughout the next six months. It will make two more presentations in September and October, and the task force will develop policy recommendations in November and December for the 2018 legislative session.
Greitens made a brief appearance at the meeting to thank the group for the work they will conduct during the next six months.
“I’m really excited about the potential that we have to make some major changes here in the state of Missouri,” Greitens said. “We have the talent in this room to turn this around.”