Although there are no plans at this time to close any of the Jefferson City-area prisons, Gov. Mike Parson laid out a proposal he said would save the state millions of dollars annually and increase pay for Department of Corrections employees by combining two prisons in Cameron.
During his first State of the State Address on Wednesday afternoon, Parson outlined a plan to close Crossroads Correctional Facility, moving its 900 maximum-security prisoners to nearby Western Missouri Correctional Facility.
"As a governor, I am not interested in building more prisons," Parson, the former Polk County sheriff, said.
Parson described the change as a "tough decision," but said, in the long run, it would save millions and allow the state to provide much-needed raises for Corrections workers.
Following the address, Anne Precythe, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the prison population has decreased, allowing the department to move prisoners and staff from Crossroads to Western.
Staff who don't go to Western can request transfers to any prisons in the state, she said.
"We're going to move the offenders out of Crossroads," Precythe said.
A small number of staff would stay at Crossroads, which would remain in "caretaker status." The staff on site would maintain Crossroads' power plant, which provides electricity to both facilities.
Half of Western, which is a medium-security prison and is larger than Crossroads, would be changed into maximum security.
The change will fill vacant positions at Western, which is expected to improve staff safety, she said.
Western has a capacity of 1,975 inmates. Crossroads' capacity is 1,440 inmates.
A violent riot in May caused widespread damage to the Crossroads prison. It began when inmates staged a sit-in over grievances, including complaints that programs had closed. When ordered to return to their cells, some did, but scores of others went on a rampage and caused serious damage to prison buildings.
The riot forced a lock down that continued for more than four months.
"The beauty of sending folks from Crossroads to Western is there is more programming space (in Western)," Precythe said. "There are more programs. There is more education. There are just more opportunities for the population to be busy.
"We think that's going to be a benefit for them. And, it's going to improve staff safety."
Officials made repairs to Crossroads after the riots, but as 2018 progressed, they watched the statewide prison population dramatically decline, she said.
"From January of 2012 to September of 2017 it was going up," Precythe said."Then it began to decline. We believe that has to do with the criminal code revision."
The Missouri Criminal Code had not undergone any significant changes since 1970, but in 2014, the General Assembly passed a new criminal code. Prior to the change, a widely ranging assortment of crimes all fell under similar felony sentencing guidelines. So, passing a bad check for more than $500 was classified as the same felony as killing someone while drunken driving.
The result of the changes, Precythe said, is fewer people are receiving prison sentences.
Another factor is Justice Reinvestment. As part of the program, the state has developed policy options to help contain Corrections spending and to reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism, according to the policy framework.
"From September 2017, the population begins to decrease. But, it takes us a period of time to see what's happening," Precythe said.
It became evident to Corrections personnel that with two close-by prisons in Cameron, they had the ability to be more efficient and save some tax dollars, she said.
The DOC has set aside $3 million to put an electric (lethal) fence around the half of Western to be converted to maximum security.
As part of the governor's budget, if passed, Corrections workers are to get a 3 percent raise, as are other state employees. Additionally, the DOC will have $8.2 million for salary adjustments for Corrections employees.
The decision to close Crossroads was largely driven by a need to find efficiencies wherever state government could, Parson said during the address.
"And, this can be done," he said, "while ensuring safety, improving security and delivering a much-needed pay raise, all being done with no layoffs."