The Council of State Governments Justice Center is working with Missouri officials to, among other things, find ways to invest into more behavioral health programs. The organization’s Andrew Barbee says West Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and Alabama have had major declines in their prison populations from those types of investments.
“What’s helping to drive that decline is the ability to connect people who are struggling with addiction and also are on supervision, it’s the new ability in those places to connect them with meaningful and quality treatment,” says Barbee. “They’re reaping the rewards of those front-end investments by virtue of not seeing those people come into the prison system and drive those costs up, which are much more expensive than the community-based investments. Those are people that are able to return back to maybe it’s supporting their family or holding down a job and contributing to the local tax base. That’s a really positive human and societal impact.”
The center has worked with 28 states to reinvest in their criminal justice systems. Missouri is not unique in its lack of community-based behavioral health support, but Barbee says it is very pronounced in the Show-Me State.
Missouri has the fastest growing female prison population in the country. According to the organization, Missouri’s female prison population increased by 33% between 2010 and 2015. In 2008, the Chillicothe Correctional Center in northern Missouri opened to hold female prisoners.
Barbee says there’s a connection between the number of incarcerated Missouri women and the lack of community behavioral health services to deal with trauma they experience.
“Many of the females that are caught up in the criminal justice system today were victims prior,” says Barbee. “So there’s an element of trauma that is not addressed further accelerates turning to chemicals and things of that nature, post-traumatic stress disorder.”
In Missouri, at least 80% in the prison system have substance misuse disorders and another 15-20% have serious and persistent mental illness disorders.
“Those needs are not able to be met with the current array of services that exist in communities across Missouri,” says Barbee. “What that creates is basically a downward spiral where you’ve got people getting in trouble because of their criminal activity that feeds their addiction, they get caught up in the criminal justice system, they don’t get connected to things that will actually fundamentally help them battle those addictions. As a result, they end up staying in the criminal justice system and cycling through it, in and out of it. It’s a downward spiral, not by design obviously, but that’s what is supported in this state is a downward spiral.”
Barbee says the only way to stop that dynamic is to introduce significant support in the community to connect people to substance misuse and mental health treatment.
In June, Republican Governor Eric Greitens issued an executive order to create a task force, which is made up of state lawmakers, criminal justice officials and others. The panel is studying ways to address the state’s rising prison population and the financial burden it has on taxpayers. Missouri is bursting at the seams with its 34,000 state prisoners among 22 facilities.
The task force is holding its final meeting today in Jefferson City. It must make recommendations to the governor by the end of this month.
Today’s meeting will be from 1-5 p.m. at the Corizon Health Building at 1320 Creek Trail Drive. Missourinet will attend today’s meeting.