JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s sprawling prison system is about to shrink again.
Just three years after state lawmakers warned that the Missouri Department of Corrections might need to build two additional prisons to accommodate a flood of new inmates, Gov. Mike Parson plans to oversee the closure of more housing units within the current fleet of 20 facilities.
That decision, announced Wednesday, comes after Parson shuttered one of two prisons in Cameron last year to account for a drop in the number of inmates.
“What they are doing is they are consolidating space within various prisons around the state, closing certain housing units and those types of things,” Parson budget director Dan Haug told reporters.
In 2017, the department was housing 33,000 inmates and looking at a possible bill of $189 million to add cells. But, because of changes in the criminal code, more people are being sentenced to probation instead of incarceration for some crimes.
The current prison population is 26,000.
DOC spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said the plan is to close housing units at the Algoa Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Boonville Correctional Center, Tipton Correctional Center, Farmington Correctional Center, Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green and Western Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center in St. Joseph.
The change will allow the department to take 1,756 offender beds offline and will eliminate the need to fill 131 currently vacant full-time positions.
“Closing housing units reduces staffing needs and enables the department to more effectively and efficiently staff facilities, boost safety and reduce mandatory overtime. We’re hoping these changes also can reduce staff stress and improve retention,” Pojmann said.
The plan is expected to save about $6.5 million and help the state avoid more than $6 million in pending maintenance and repair projects.
The savings will be spent on maintenance projects at all of the state’s prisons, as well as upgrades to the vehicle fleet used by probation and parole officers.
The agency plans to use $3 million to expand the number of radios at all of the prisons, as well as fix security cameras in the facilities.
In addition to upgrading the prison buildings, the plan addresses a long-running problem of understaffing within the system.
The department currently has 823 correctional officer vacancies, many of them open due to low pay and harsh working conditions.
Combined with the closure of the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, the proposed changes will mean a reduction of more than 2,600 beds across the department in a year’s time.
In outlining his $30.9 billion spending plan, Parson also proposed cutting about 120 positions at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
“In the labor budget, we have FTE (full-time equivalent positions) in there to deal with the workload when there’s high unemployment levels. There were not high unemployment levels. Those positions are not filled, so we cut those positions, because we want the budget to really reflect the reality of what is going on in the department,” Haug said.
“If unemployment increases significantly, we would probably have to add some of those back, but we wanted to basically right-size that budget, so the number of employees they actually have is what’s reflected in the budget,” he added.