Missouri’s chief justice again urged the state legislature to find solutions to the state’s prison overcrowding, saying the state continues to incarcerate too many people who instead belong in diversion programs to help them kick drug and alcohol habits, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We continue to over-incarcerate nonviolent offenders, while we have failed to expand drug courts and other diversionary and reentry programs to capacity,” Judge William Ray Price told a joint meeting of the House and Senate. “The result is a state that is not as safe as we want it to be and a waste of tax dollars.”
Price pointed to the staggering growth of Missouri’s prison system to make his point. In 1982, the state had 5,953 prisoners and a budget of $55 million. In 2009, there were 30,432 prisoners and a budget of $665 million. Price said he, Gov. Jay Nixon, Speaker of the House Steve Tilley and Sen. Rob Mayer, the president pro tem of the Senate, are seeking a federal grant to study alternatives to incarceration in Missouri. Last year, lawmakers worked on a plan to close one prison and divert prisoners to drug courts, though the effort ultimately failed. The Legislature did, however, add to DWI courts, in part a response to Price’s speech and a Post-Dispatch series about the failure of DWI laws in the state. “This prison based strategy is not working and it is costing us an arm and a leg,” Price said. This year, the words seem destined to fall on deaf ears. Nixon has already indicated he doesn’t support closing a prison, and a Senate committee ignored the concept.