Missouri's Department of Corrections has had its share of problems over recent years, but we're excited about the prospect of solving one big one: prison overpopulation.
Several of the state's top officials — including Gov. Mike Parson, Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten and Corrections Director Anne Precythe — seem to be on the same page, all committed to addressing the problem.
Missouri has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. As of 2016, our state had more than 32,000 inmates. That's close to the size of Jefferson City, and it was 634 more inmates than the prisons were built to hold.
If the trend continues, Missouri could be forced to build more prisons at a cost of millions to taxpayers.
Parson plans to create a task force to look at the problem. We believe that's a good way to start the process.
Such a task force could come up with multi-pronged recommendations that could result in new programs aimed at reducing the prison population.
We believe one component that should be used more is substance abuse courts.
Precythe said recently that such courts could treat some offenders for their addictions rather than sending them to prison.
She said that probation violators who are sent to prison account for 3,477 of the state's inmates. They spend an average of a year there, costing taxpayers $58 a day.
"When you do the math, those 3,477 are costing us $74.7 million annually — that's just the simple math and what it's costing us in corrections dollars," she said at the State Forum on Public Safety held at State Technical College in Linn.
"That doesn't add in the social costs — the fact that somebody's not able to work and provide for their family, and there's no role model in the home for the children."
Precythe and Karsten emphasized the effort to keep more people out of prisons shouldn't be seen as them being "soft on crime" but, rather, as a way to keep people who really shouldn't be in prison from going there.
Drug courts have been used successfully in Missouri and other states. They have the potential to rebuild lives through sobriety. Each recovery is a win for society, which potentially gains another productive employee and a healthier family.