Nixon seeks to close part of juvenile facility

The secure unit for juvenile offenders in a southwestern Missouri facility could be closed. And adult prison inmates could do their shopping at machines in prison canteens.

Less noticeable than some of the larger budget cuts, the proposals are examples of the smaller changes that could be coming to state government under Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget plan for the fiscal year that starts in July.

The governor submitted a $23.1 billion budget for 2012 that eliminates 863 full-time government positions, many of which are in the Mental Health, Corrections and Social Services departments.

Nixon’s administration said people currently receiving state services would continue to receive them, though the process for doing so could change. It planned to minimize layoffs by shifting state workers into vacant positions that are slotted to continue.

One proposed budget move would close down part of a state facility for juvenile offenders in Mount Vernon.

Department of Social Services spokeswoman Arleasha Mays said Thursday the agency planned to convert 10 beds from Mount Vernon’s secure unit to lower security beds. Mays said southwestern Missouri needs more room for juveniles in moderate-security but that the agency still was deciding in which facility to put the additional beds.

Nixon budget director Linda Luebbering said Mount Vernon’s secure unit would be closed down and 10 beds converted to a lower security level at a facility in Rich Hill. The move would leave Mount Vernon with 20 beds and boost Rich Hill’s capacity to 30. It also would allow two full-time positions to be cut.

Luebbering said shifting the beds would save state coffers about $350,000 because Missouri would pick up additional federal money that is not available for youths housed with higher security. Luebbering said no juveniles requiring higher security would be shifted to a lower setting.

“Since they don’t need to be there, they can have a less secure setting. It’s better for them, and it saves the state money,” she said.

The Department of Social Services operates juvenile facilities with differing security levels. According to the department, most of the youths in secure facilities have committed crimes against another person, and the facilities have fences and locked outer doors. Moderate-security facilities do not have fences, and the youths there generally committed property crimes.

Another budget idea would replace staff members who sell products at prison canteens with machines. Plus, vacant positions in the Department of Corrections’ vocational enterprise program would be eliminated. The state also could privatize a call center that handles changes to the addresses and phone numbers of social services recipients.

Some of the ideas already are creating concerns.

A union that represents about 6,500 state workers mainly in the health and Social Services departments said the changes could make it more difficult for people to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and child support.

Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America Local 6355, also questioned the proposal for the Mount Vernon juvenile facility, saying it could force youths to live far from home and their families.

“We work hard to keep kids close to the communities that they came from,” Harmon said.

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