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Prison System Sees Increase

March 1, 2002
By: Javier Solano
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Among all the budget losers in state government, Missouri's prison system would be one of the big winners in Gov. Bob Holden's budget plan.

Holden's budget proposal for would grant the Corrections Department a $37 million increase from last year's appropriations -- a 7.7 percent increase in state funds.

In fact, the Corrections Department would enjoy the biggest percentage increase in General Revenue of any state department under the governor's plan.

Most of the extra money would be used to open a new prison in Bonne Terre, 60 miles south of St. Louis. The 2,684-bed complex, which was completed last summer and is scheduled to open this year, will be the state's largest and most expensive prison.

"This fiscal year increase in our budget is strictly to open up the new prison in Bonne Terre, there are no increases in terms of programming or anything like that in the budget," said Tim Kniest, a spokesman for the Corrections Department.

"We are receiving 13 million in start up costs to open the facility," he said. "That's for equipment like computers, furniture, desks or beds. We need to add a certain amount of money for staff salaries and utilities as well."

The governor's plan to open that prison is coming under attack from social-welfare activists.

Representatives from the Missouri Coalition for Budget and Policy Priorities targeted the Bonne Terre project during a protest of the governor's proposed cuts to social services.

To deal with growing prison populations, Gov. Bob Holden should look at changing sentencing, probation and parole regulations to let first time nonviolent offenders out of jail, said Barbara Ross, director of the social concerns office at the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City.

Holden's budget proposal attributes the need for a new prison to what he qualifies as "some of the toughest anti-crime provisions in the country." "Tough laws have little effect without space to incarcerate offenders," he said.

Missouri's inmate population grows by more than 3 inmates every day, according to Kniest.

The Bonne Terre facility will serve as the point of admission for male offenders committed to the Department of Corrections by the courts in eastern Missouri.