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Two Prisons

April 29, 1997
By: Joel Kirkland
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Mel Carnahan won his latest battle Tuesday when after weeks of speculation and lobbying, the House Budget Committee approved funding for two new $73 million maximum security prisons.

But, the University of Missouri also won its own battle for money. The committee approved $7.5 million to refurbish Townsend Hall. Townsend Hall houses the College of Education on the Columbia campus.

U.M. lobbyist Jim Snider made his rounds over the past few weeks talking to House members about money for two major construction projects -- Townsend Hall and a new building for the College of Business and Public Administration.

At the same time, the governor's office was arguing that Missouri has far more prisoners than space to hold them. Members of the governor's staff have warned legislators that two new prisons are absolutely necessary to keep up with stricter sentencing laws.

Although Carnahan and Snider were vying for a significant portion of capital improvements money, they both deny they lobbied in opposition to one another.

"There truly was some hesitation to agree that Missouri needed two new prisons," Snider said. "It was clear to me that there is a need for more prisons. I never asked any legislator to vote against two prisons."

Snider has argued that the Education and Business school construction projects are high priority items with millions of dollars in private donations at stake.

But, Budget Committee Chairman Sheila Lumpe, D-St. Louis County, criticized the university for changing its priorities halfway through the session. She claimed the university originally made Townsend its top priority, then asked for additional construction money for the Business school.

Although the university's money is allocated for Townsend improvements, the Budget Committee gave the university an option to use the money for the Business school. But if the university does so, Lumpe said, the university should not request additional money for Townsend next year.

"When (agencies) change their priorities, then that's very confusing for us," Lumpe said. "The prisons used up the discretionary revenue, and very few dollars for higher education were there."

The committee approved a total $521 million for new construction and renovation projects. In its current form, $32 million would go to universities.

Although House and Senate leaders predict both chambers will agree to give more money to build prisons instead of U.M. projects this year, Snider said if Missouri's economy continues to grow, capital funds for university projects will follow.

"I am very pleased with how the university has done so far," Snider said.

In a straw poll taken several weeks ago, more than two-thirds of the Budget Committee wanted to build only one prison.

Since then, the governor's office, House Speaker Steve Gaw and the Corrections Department lobbied committee members.

Carnahan's press secretary, Chris Sifford, said Missouri is in such need of additional prisons that the governor had not even considered the possibility of being denied a second prison. Legislative leaders have lobbied on the basis that the ramifications of overcrowded prisons are too high for the state to ignore.

Since stricter sentencing laws went into effect in 1993, Missouri's rate of incarceration is higher than most states. Average sentences in Missouri have also lengthened by nearly 30 months.

Corrections Department Director Dora Schriro told legislators that even if two prisons are built, they will be over-capacity by the year 2001. Because inmates continue to enter the system at a rate of 8 per day, the state now houses nearly 1200 prisoners in Texas facilities.