The Interim Committee on Criminal Justice is looking at the final report issued by the special state task force assigned to revamping Missouri’s prison system.

This graph in the Missouri Working Group on Corrections final report shows only 27 percent of the state's inmate population in 2010 were admitted for new crimes.

The group, in coordination with PEW Charitable Trusts, delved into data surrounding the state’s inmate population — why they’re there, for how long, and how many go back.

How many go back appears to be a big problem, and it’s costing the state a large portion of its annual budget.

Supreme Court Judge Ray Price tells the Criminal Justice Committee, “We are failing in our approach,” noting more than 50% of prisoners return to the system within a few years of being released.

PEW and the group say with corrections costs up 39 percent since 2000, it’s clear something needs to happen. Therefore, its focus is on strengthening community supervision and addressing revocations to prison. That means targeting risk and need factors; frontloading resources; administering swift, certain and proportional sanctions for violations; incorporating rewards and incentives; and balancing surveillance with treatment. Judge Price talks about that focus:

More than 40 percent of prison admissions — that’s nearly 8,000 inmates — are for technical violations of supervision, Robin Olsen with PEW says. Most of them occur in the first year of being released and many of the offenders have been found guilty of non-violent crimes.

Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-University City) asked about what’s going on in other states. Olsen says many other states are taking a hard look at bringing costs down, including nearby Kansas, Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas. She says Texas has reinvested millions of dollars in drug treatment of offenders and has in return saved billions by not building new prisons in that state to house an increasing population.

“If you want to look at it in dollars in cents, we can spend less, if you want to look at it from a humanitarian standpoint, we can help people become better people … if they want to,” Price told the committee. “From a purely financial standpoint, we can take a few steps and run a cheaper, more effective system.”

The working group, if it successfully passes and implements the goals outlined in its final report, would create a 5-year savings of $7.7 million to $16.6 million. The package would reduce the projected prison population at the end of 2017 by 245 inmates to 677 inmates.

Consensus Report of the MO Working Group (PDF file, 10 pages)