© 2024 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Key Missouri Departments Are Working Toward a Turn-Around of State's Incarceration Rates

Janet Saidi
At a Nov. 7 Town Hall in Boone County, mental health, substance abuse, and corrections staff talked of the results they are seeing in the first weeks of the program's implementation.

State directors and staff in the fields of public safety, mental health, social services, and corrections are rolling out implementations of the state Justice Reinvestment Initiative. It aims to turn around Missouri’s rising incarceration rates by investing in treatment and other services rather than in prisons.

Missouri has one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States, and Missouri is putting women in prison faster than any other state, according to research by the Council of State Governments. Missouri’s Dept. of Corrections Director Anne Precythe says of the fast rate of female incarceration in Missouri: “We want to be number one. But not for that.” 

Precythe has been a driver in a massive, statewide effort to turn these incarceration rates around, with a so-called “wraparound” approach. Rolling out in three Missouri counties - Boone, Butler and Buchanan - the Reinvestment Initiative treatment pilots are implementing House Bill 1355, signed into law June 1.

At a town hall event Nov. 7 in Boone County, Precythe told a group of counselors, Probation and Parole officers, mental health workers, state leaders and others involved in the effort that the approach is “a new way of doing business.”

Multidisciplinary teams will address the real needs faced by people at risk. Needs - Precythe says – that we don’t even understand. They’re the kinds of needs that prevent people from staying out of prison.

“They can’t do that if basic life challenges continue to show themselves and no one’s working to help address housing or childcare, parent care, difficult family situation, finances,” said Precythe. “I mean it’s all of those things that have to be rolled in together to make someone successful.”

Michael Malone is a Probation and Parole officer in Columbia. He and teams of probation officers, mental health, treatment, and social services professionals have been working on the frontlines of the rollout in Boone County for about three months. He says the people he works with have layers of problems and there are no easy solutions. But at the Boone County town hall event, he listed one person after another who he’s seen getting mental health, substance abuse treatment, and getting jobs - some for the first time.

“It’s one place that they’re going but they’re getting help with employment, with housing, with mental health. on top of substance abuse,” said Malone. “As opposed to, just go to substance abuse treatment and tell me how it went.”

In recent weeks the Initiative has led town hall forums in the three pilot counties, bringing together multidisciplinary teams implementing the wraparound services. Governor Mike Parson is scheduled to address the key leaders and staff in the Reinvestment Initiative at a public safety forum Friday, Dec. 7, in Linn, Missouri.

The incentive for passing legislation to reinvest in services and support that keep people out of prison was research from the Council of State Governments predicting that if Missouri continued its rates of incarceration it would need to invest about $485 million dollars in new prison infrastructure. The idea is to “re-invest” instead in the pilot programs, that provide the community “wraparound” and substance-abuse treatment services to people under Dept. of Corrections supervision.

At the Boone County forum, where about 1,650 people are under supervision, Laura Cameron, a director at Phoenix Programs in Columbia said she’s relieved to see the more comprehensive approach in the rollout’s first 60 days.

The important thing, she told the group in Boone County, is to not see people at risk as “that population.” And many of her colleagues at the forum seemed to echo that sentiment.

“These are human beings,” she said. “They’re brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers.”

Janet Saidi is a producer and professor at KBIA and the Missouri School of Journalism.