The struggle by the state to find ways to save hundreds of millions of dollars could lead to changes in the way crimes are prosecuted at the county level. State Senators figure the state can save a lot of money if it closes one of its older prisons. To get there, the prison system needs to lose 1500-2000 inmates.
Senators taking a cue from Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Ray Price that too many prison inmates are not violent or dangerous enough to merit prison time have approved a proposal that the corrections department will not accept prisoners convicted of low-class felonies unless they have prior convictions. That means those inmates have to be kept in county jails or put in the probation and parole system. The plan would have the state pay for six months of jail time, but only if it can afford to do so.
That’s one of several sticking points for Senator John Griesheimer of Washington who says some counties cannot afford that plan, especially after state funding stops at the end of six months and certainly cannot afford the plan if the legislature fails to appropriate money for it. . But sponsor Matt Bartle of Lee’s Summit says the state can’t afford the status quo. Bartle says it costs $16,500 a year to house an inmate in a state prison. He figures the state would save $33 million a year by reducing the inmate count by 2,000.
Bartle proposes using some of that money will be used for payments to counties holding inmates up to six months. He also proposes using some of the savings to increase probation and parole programs for other offenders that he thinks should be in prison either.
But Griesheimer argues the plan will leave counties that already are struggling to pay their bills in the lurch if prosecutors and judges agree on sentences longer than six months. Bartle says that puts the ball in the hands of the County Commissioners who have to find money to pay for that extra-length incarcerations, a situation that Griesheimer claims makes prosecutors “God” in determining county government spending.
Griesheimer’s effort to change Bartle’s bill gained little support. Now it’s up to the House to decide if Bartle’s idea has enough political merit to become state law.