Throughout the late 1980ís and 1990ís, Missouri and most other states went on a prison building spree. State governments then passed tougher laws, extended prison terms and thus filled old and new prisons with inmates. Not surprisingly, now maintaining prisons has become a major drain on state budgets.
Recently, both The New York Times and National Public Radio have recognized Missouriís Juvenile Correction system as a national model. Instead of warehousing young inmates in large prison complexes with older prisoners, Missouri houses its juvenile prisoners in a residential type setting that includes classes, group therapy and counseling, and recreational activities. The result is an outstandingly low recidivism rate of 7.3%, compared to other statesí rates of 30 to 50%.
Missouriís Sentencing Advisory Committee, chaired by Chief Justice Michael Wolfe, just completed a study whereby judges, who followed the Committeeís sentencing guidelines, reduced Missouriís prison population since November 2005 by 875. The Committee found that the longer inmates are kept in prison, the more likely they are to return to prison.
Surely there are lessons to be learned from both efforts that can reduce the larger prison population while protecting public safety and reducing the cost of prisons to the state budget.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Lowe "Sandy" MacLean is vice chancellor emeritus, University of Missouri, St. Louis, and is active in local political and community organizations, including the Grand Order of Pachyderms (GOP), a service organization for the Republican Party.