Your Opinion: Education helps cut incarceration

Dear Editor:

Through the Missouri Chamber’s Leadership Missouri program, I had the opportunity to tour the Jefferson City Correctional Center (JCCC) alongside Warden Jeff Norman. Right off the bat, Warden Norman — a tall, slender man wearing glasses and a windbreaker — broke the ruthless, Hollywood prison warden stereotype.

And it wasn’t just his appearance that came as a surprise. Warden Norman’s calm, humble and occasionally humorous demeanor put me more at ease than I thought was possible while inside a maximum security prison.

I have no doubt in my mind that Warden Norman is not a man you want to mess with. However, his motto is mutual respect, and his philosophy is rehabilitation. And if you get a chance to visit JCCC, you can see firsthand that Warden Norman practices what he preaches. There are some truly inspirational rehabilitation programs taking place inside those walls — programs led by actual prisoners, most of whom have life sentences.

I was moved by the personal stories and the progress of the prisoners, but one story in particular stuck in my mind.

Warden Norman told us a conversation he had with a young man who was making his way through a rehabilitation program. The young man was grateful for the education and therapy he was receiving at JCCC, but he had a good question — Why was the state taking an interest in helping him now, when they should have helped him when he was a young boy?

The young man made a very acute observation about the state of Missouri: we spend more money on our prisons than we do investing in our children. For example, early care and education programs are proven to reduce rates of juvenile and adult crime, and yet Sen. Schaefer and the Senate Appropriations Committee just eliminated Accreditation Facilitation funding ($3.5 million cut) and slashed the Missouri Preschool Project funding ($18.3 million recommended by Governor Nixon reduced to $11.7 million).

And let us not forget our School Foundation Formula is $620 million underfunded.

Why aren’t we investing in our children? Why does the Legislature care more about competing with Kansas and lowering taxes than education? Even if we attract some new businesses into the state with lower corporate taxes, if we don’t educate our kids, we aren’t going to have the workforce to fill those jobs. On the other hand, we will have enough young men and women to fill our prisons.

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