Editorials

The state of Missouri owes Jackson County almost $2 million. When will it pay up?

Woman says she was raped by Missouri prison workers. The state wants to send her back

Karen Backues Keil is still suing the guard and the mental health counselor she says raped and sexually assaulted her at Chillicothe Correctional Center. Now the Missouri Attorney General’s Office is trying to send her back there.
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Karen Backues Keil is still suing the guard and the mental health counselor she says raped and sexually assaulted her at Chillicothe Correctional Center. Now the Missouri Attorney General’s Office is trying to send her back there.

The Missouri Department of Corrections owes counties throughout the state more than $20 million for housing inmates bound for state prison.

The perpetual backlog and the state’s unacceptably tardy reimbursements leave counties in the lurch. And Jackson County is near the top of that list.

The state owes Jackson County nearly $2 million. Some $730,000 is owed to Clay County; and nearly $430,000 is due to Platte County. The state is indebted to Cass County for $233,000.

State lawmakers have been unwilling to allocate the funds needed to chip away at the total owed to counties, which now stands somewhere between $20 million and $30 million. This year, legislators added only $1.75 million to the Department of Corrections’ $40 million budget to address the backlog, KCUR reported last week.

Counties are eventually reimbursed for housing inmates who are convicted and sent to state prisons, but on average, the process usually takes about nine months.

And the state is falling further behind.

Jackson County was owed $800,000 in 2017. Two years later, the amount has more than doubled to just under $1.9 million.

“The state has a statutory obligation to put more dollars into (Department of Corrections) funding,” Cass County Sheriff Jeff Weber told The Star. “Funding is an issue but one that has not been a priority.”

In 2017, Missouri had the eighth-largest prison population in the country. The number has dropped about 8% since then. Close to 29,500 people are incarcerated in the state penal system, down from 32,000 two years ago.

Missouri Department of Corrections officials attribute the decline to some of the programs aimed at reducing the number of inmates who return to prison.

But the Department of Corrections will continue to operate in arrears until state lawmakers enact additional criminal justice reforms — or substantially increase funding to keep tens of thousands of inmates behind bars.

“If we recognize it’s a problem, we owe it to ourselves to find a solution,” Weber said. “We just haven’t gotten there yet.”

Other states have taken steps in the right direction, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing the prison population.

In 2010, South Carolina passed sentencing and corrections reforms that have saved the state close to $500 million. The recidivism rate decreased by 10%, and the overall prison population fell 14%.

Missouri could begin to reduce costs and the number of prisoners incarcerated if Gov. Mike Parson signs into law House Bill 192. The measure would eliminate so-called debtors prisons and would reduce the prison population by ending mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent crimes.

Allowing early parole for nonviolent offenders over the age of 65 would also spur declines in the number of inmates. Lawmakers had the opportunity to act on that reform this year, but a proposal stalled in the Senate during the recently-concluded legislative session.

When they reconvene next year, lawmakers must get serious about enacting substantial criminal justice reforms that have yielded impressive results across the country.

And even more urgently, state officials must develop a plan to settle up with counties in a timely manner. Jackson County can’t afford to wait indefinitely for the money it’s owed.

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