Missouri has roughly 13,000 inmates released from prison each year. To help them get on the right track and stay on it, Missouri has become the first state in the nation to join a national initiative, called Reentry 2030.

By 2030, the Missouri Department of Corrections wants 100% of its prisoners who need career services to get them. It also wants 85% of incarcerated Missourians to have a job within 30 days of release and another 80% of former inmates to maintain their employment for at least nine months after release.

How does Missouri intend to reach these goals? During Wednesday’s unveiling of the plans, state Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe said the effort will involve expanding partnerships with public and private organizations.

Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

“We’ve been talking about reentry for over 20 years and we haven’t perfected it yet,” said Precythe. “That’s why we’re here today – to work together to become the reentry model it takes to make our communities safer and better places to live. We stand ready to rise to the challenge, and we’re going to up our game. It is time to mobilize behind efforts that will dramatically change the way we approach preparing incarcerated Missourians for reentry to our community.”

Precythe pointed to daily basic needs that many people take for granted – a safe place to sleep, reliable transportation, proper identification, social security cards, jobs, and a support system.

Missouri state agencies will be involved in helping to give ex-prisoners a second chance through a variety of opportunities, including education, licensing, workforce training, getting documents needed for employment, helping to set up healthcare and mental health providers, requesting social services benefits, among other things.

“We all have a lane in which we work day-to-day, both as individuals and as organizations. But the best work happens on the edges of those lanes,” said Precythe. “In fact, it’s on the edges where the work begins to overlap, creativity thrives, where collaboration comes to life, where we have the capacity to think and work outside the box.”

According to Precythe, 97% of incarcerated Missourians are released from prison.

“I’ve heard from the economic community for years – we need people. Well guess what, I’ve got people and they’re coming back to our communities. We know there are better, more efficient ways to do business today. There are technologies that are improved far beyond paper and pen. We know helping formerly incarcerated Missourians build a new life is possible, and that it is simply the right thing to do. And perhaps most importantly, we know corrections cannot do this by ourselves. We need your help,” she said.

Gov. Mike Parson (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

Gov. Mike Parson (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

According to Missouri Department of Corrections Communications Director Karen Pojmann, the cost to Missouri taxpayers to lock up an inmate in state prison and keep them there until release is almost $32,000 a year.

In 2017, Missouri’s prison population was about 34,000 inmates. Back then, Missouri ranked 8th highest in the nation in the rate at which it imprisoned people, including the greatest increase nationally in its incarceration of women.

Today, Missouri’s overall prison population is more like 23,400. Part of the reason for the population decline is because the state stepped up its efforts to reduce the number of people entering the system – and to help put a stop to that revolving door of people reentering prison.

It launched a Justice Reinvestment Task Force comprised of state lawmakers, criminal justice leaders, and others in the community. The work to reduce the prison population has paid off, but the state wants to do more.

Gov. Mike Parson attended Wednesday’s event in Jefferson City. Parson is a former Polk County sheriff.

The governor has issued a proclamation to make April “Second Chance Month” in Missouri.

“You know what I learned from being in law enforcement for 20-plus years? Most people are not bad people. They’re really not. Poor choices. Poor upbringings. Lots of excuses why somebody commits a crime, but most people are not bad people. So, you never want to give up on the vast majority of people. The point of it is, once they’re incarcerated, then our job is to figure out how do we help them. That should be the first thing we think of. It’s not about locking the doors. The American dream should always be on the table for everybody, no matter what mistakes you make. You should have a shot at it and I hope Missouri will do,” said Parson.

Ex-inmates Trey Dawson and Roy Farmer (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

Ex-inmates Trey Dawson and Roy Farmer (Photo by Alisa Nelson)

The governor said violent criminals must still pay the price.

“That’s the way society works,” said the governor. “But there’s a lot of other people that go to prison that can get rehabilitated, can learn trades, can learn how to go out and go back to the workforce and go home. And we all should want that. You know, I always thought when I was sheriff, there was two issues that I thought was overlooked by society in a big way – people that are incarcerated and mental health.”

Wednesday’s event also included state of Missouri cabinet members, a representative from the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the U.S. Department of Justice, and two ex-inmates who shared their views on reentering into society.

Now that Missouri’s goals have been announced, members of state government and the community will soon come together to form the Missouri Reentry 2030 Advisory Team. They will put their heads together to peel back the layers on the next steps – and reimagine the work of reentry in Missouri.

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