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Perspective: Progress made to prepare inmates for life after prison

Perspective: Progress made to prepare inmates for life after prison

April 9th, 2018 by State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City in Opinion

After session concluded Thursday, I had the opportunity to address members of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Missouri S&T in Rolla. It was a great experience, and one for which I am thankful. In particular, I was able to share with them the importance of faith, family and hard work. Any success I have had in life comes first and foremost from God's blessing, from the wisdom and discipline of my mother, and from following the advice of Dave Sinclair to "be nice to everyone, work your butt off and don't watch the clock."

The members of Sigma Phi Epsilon are smart, driven and are receiving an excellent education. By way of my comments, I hope I was able to convince them that school is not the culmination of work, but rather the beginning of it. No piece of paper from a college or university replaces effort, a good attitude, dependability and the desire for continued self-improvement. My mother and Mr. Sinclair taught me this at an early age, and while I am still in the process of learning and re-learning these lessons, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share them with these young men in Rolla.

This was a short week in the Legislature as a result of the Easter Holiday, but it was productive nonetheless. I was particularly pleased the Senate completed work on SB966, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden and commonly referred to as the Justice Reinvestment Act. SB966 begins efforts to improve Missouri's criminal justice system. Missouri's current system is very good at locking people up. Unfortunately, this same system is not very good at preparing the same people to avoid coming back. By virtue of their actions, some Missourians have earned spending the rest of their lives behind bars. However, the vast majority of prisoners will be released, and we need these individuals to become productive citizens rather than repeat offenders.

SB966 represents nearly a year of cooperation and effort by the Missouri State Justice Reinvestment Task force, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Mental Health, the US Department of Justice, the Council of State Governments Justice Center and multiple other stake-holders within and outside government. The director of the Department of Corrections, Anne Precythe, brought all these entities together to create a plan to reduce recidivism, better meet the needs of Missourians before they enter the criminal justice system, and prepare inmates to leave and never come back. Our current system is more akin to a revolving door that, if unchanged, will necessitate building and staffing two new prisons in the next decade. Instead of a revolving door, it is far better to invest in community-based treatment, in combination with risk-based evaluations, to make more specific decisions relating to sentencing and release.

Most importantly, SB966 recognizes the great need to prepare inmates for life after they are released from prison. Most men and women who are incarcerated for a mistake do not want to come back to prison, yet so many of them leave unprepared to do anything but return. Many have never been taught how to balance a checkbook, dress for a job interview, show up for work on time or balance a budget. Many who have been taught these things still find it very difficult to get by day-to-day upon release. How can they find a place to live without a security deposit? How can they dress appropriately for an interview without proper fitting clothes? How can they get a job having been incarcerated?

The answer to these questions is not simply additional funding, but rather to make changes within the current system by partnering with schools and businesses, to educate inmates on these realities and prepare a plan to meet them. The department is already doing some of this through an innovative partnership with State Technical College in Linn, where they take a mobile classroom to some correctional facilities to teach basic vocational and trade skills. While just in its infancy, this partnership has already produced some great outcomes. I am very grateful to Precythe for her leadership and energy on this issue, and I believe she has the Department of Corrections on the right path.

Those of you who have read this column over the years know that the month of April brings with it the "Best Monday of the Year," marking the start of spring turkey season and the hysterical spectacle that is my chief of staff running himself ragged in effort to kill a pea-brained bird. Not only him, but his children seem to suffer this same affliction. Fortunately, they are better hunters than their dad. I look forward to turkey season because I enjoy the misery those birds rain down on him, the excuses and tales of woe, as well as the unending opportunities to make jokes at his expense. As a result of this column, many of you now join me in teasing him, and I encourage you to continue doing so beginning Monday the 16th.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th Senate District. He shares his perspective each Monday during the session and occasionally during the interim.