Task force responds to growing prison population, repeat offenses

6 months 1 week 2 days ago Wednesday, December 13 2017 Dec 13, 2017 Wednesday, December 13, 2017 6:53:00 PM CST December 13, 2017 in News
By: Stephanie Sandoval, KOMU 8 Reporter

JEFFERSON CITY - The Justice Reinvestment Task Force took a big step Wednesday when it comes to addressing mental health, substance abuse and other issues in the state. 

Gov. Eric Greitens created the task force to help confront Missouri’s trends in its criminal justice system. The task force has been working with The Council of State Governments Justice Center to closely examine criminal justice-related needs in the state and how to make better use of the department's resources with the goal of reducing repeat offenses. 

The council has conducted extensive research since July. Council Research Director Andy Barbee said one of the goals is to reduce treatment-related admissions to prison by 50 percent by fiscal year 2023. 

The council found Missouri has made significant investment in prison-based intervention and treatment for individuals. However, it found long-term outcomes for prison-based treatment are currently no better than for people who did not get treatment. Overall, the council said Missouri needs to move from prison-focused to a community-focused treatment system. 

The council recommended three policy options: address violent crime, improve behavioral health treatment resources and curb recidivism. Some of the suggestions within each option include:  

  • Improve access and quality of services available to victims of crime 
  • Increase the effectiveness of prison-based substance use treatment to reduce the number of people returning to prison 
  • Expand and strengthen behavioral health workforce 
  • Fund updates to the Missouri Department of Corrections' IT systems to enhance efficiency and effectiveness of staff 
  • Strengthen utilization and outcomes for Community Supervision Centers

The task force voted to pass all of the recommendations as is from the council. 

The plan would cost around $189 million to implement over the course of five years (2019-2023), if signed by the governor. The task force has until the end of the month to submit the recommendations to Gov. Greitens.

“I'm excited to see how the governor responds,” Sam Richardson, a writer from Moberly, said. “I think he'll respond in a positive way and I'm looking forward to being active with the state representatives and senators as it gets to the general assembly in January. And I sure hope we can pass the package this coming session.”

Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said she thinks this is an “awesome plan.”

“We've had issues with our correction system for the last several years and I'm glad that we have a new blueprint going forward,” she said. 

Jason Lamb, the executive director of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorney’s, said this has been a “very good process.”  

“It’s been a very thoughtful process," Lamb said. "On behalf of Missouri’s prosecutors, we've been very pleased to be involved and engaged in these discussions and we think that the right people are at the table, stakeholders from across the entire spectrum with the criminal justice system.”

A spokeswoman from the Missouri Department of Corrections says Missouri’s prison population is at an all-time high. 

“A significant number of people who are in our prisons are actually there because they committed parole violations rather than new crimes,” Karen Pojmann said.

She said the number of people who have mental health issues in prison and substance abuse issues is very high. 

“If we could address those kinds of problems, we would solve a lot of these other problems as well,” Pojmann said. 

According to the presentation, Missouri’s incarceration rate is the eighth-highest in the nation, the rate has increased by 4 percent since 2010, while the national incarceration rate has declined by 8 percent. 

Richardson said there’s a murder case in Randolph County right now that is costing the county at least $7,500 a year to house the man accused of murder.  

“When he finally goes to trial, we are going to have to pay for the cost of the change of venue jury, so we have to house them, feed and transport those folks and that money has to come out of general revenue," Richardson said. "And so, if it’s 50,000, that’s a good chunk of money just for one trial.”

Missouri is also seeing a growth in the number of female prisoners — the fastest in the country, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

According the National Research Center Justice Involved Women, women are nearly four times more likely to have been victim of physical or sexual abuse in childhood. Data also shows women are 20 percent more likely to have mental health problems and two times more likely to have co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. 

In Missouri, 45 percent of women were sentenced to prison for the purpose of treatment in 2016, according to data from the Missouri Department of Corrections. 

“I think it’s an interesting scenario, and it’s one that I'm very happy that we are addressing with this task force,” Curls said. “It’s alarming — the rate of women that are being enrolled in a system. It’s growing at an alarming rate. I'm happy that it’s being addressed.”

Opioid overdose in Missouri has also grown at an alarming rate. Opioid overdose in Missouri has increased by 67 percent between 2012 and 2016, according to data from the Missouri Division of Behavioral Health and Department of Mental Health.

Senior Policy Advisor Steve Allen said people who engage in less than 90 days of treatment don't show nearly as much improvement, if any, than those who got more than 90 days of treatment. 

“Getting people and keeping people in treatment is a good idea,” Allen said. 

(This story has been revised with more information.)

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