Ground will be broken within a few weeks for a new prison to handle Missouri’s growing number of women convicts. The Chillicothe women’s prison is the oldest prison in the state. It’s full, with 525 inmates…. The women’s prison at Vandalia has a design capacity of 1925 inmates. It’s about 100 beyond that number, with five or six beds in some cells designed to hold four inmates. A builder of the new prison has been picked. An aggressive construction schedule has been set. But Corrections Director Larry Crawford says he expects the system to run out of bed space before the new prison is finished. He says the prison population is at “critical mass.” The state does have a prison that was closed two years ago to save money–the Church Farm near Jefferson City. But Crawford says that’s not a good alternative because the costs of converting it to a women’s facility would be high and would rob the state of space for men as those numbers increase. He hopes the department can avoid renting prison space from other states. But Crawford says he has not calculated how many more women can be taken into the system before the state has to look for outside housing. The new prison should open late in 2008 or early in 2009.