Testifying Monday before a House budget hearing, Missouri’s new Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe says she’s committed to not building another prison. She says the department will instead look to reduce prison populations before expanding the system.

Missouri DOC Director Anne Precythe testifies at the Statehouse in February 2017 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel; House Communications)

With numbers going up and down each year, Director Precythe describes the prison population as a “rollercoaster,” though overall it has been rising. Last year it rose by around 550 inmates, she said. Since 2006, Missouri’s prison population has risen by around 2,500.

Missouri prisons currently hold about 32,500 inmates.

Missouri last built a prison in 2008, the new Chillicothe Correctional Center. It cost the state roughly $120 million dollars and was paid for through bonds authorized by the Missouri Legislature in 2006. This year’s budget included funding to pay for the last Chillicothe housing unit. The new facility was built to address Missouri’s rising female prison population and currently houses around 1,700 inmates.

Division of Adult Institutions Director Dave Dormire testifies that the system is running at capacity. In the summer of 2016 the DOC had roughly 33,900 inmates, making for even more cramped conditions than what it is currently experiencing. In some prisons, beds had to be placed on the floors of common areas in cell blocks to fit all the prisoners, a practice the DOC calls “saturation housing.”

If Missouri lawmakers decide to build a new prison, DOC Budget Director Joe Eddy testifies that would take about four years.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), who chairs the House Budget Committee, says he’s worried that crowded prisons might turn Missouri’s criminal justice system into a revolving door.

“It seems to me that we are on a collision course with a new prison, and that may be something we have to look at,” he said, adding that he would rather try other options first. “But, if it comes down to giving child molesters 4 months in jail or building a new prison, I am in favor of building a new prison.”

Director Precythe testifies that she wants to reserve prison space for Missouri’s most dangerous criminals.