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More Prisons/Less Education

April 17, 1997

]By: Joel Kirkland

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - University of Missouri lobbyist Jim Snider is hot in pursuit of state money for construction and renovation projects at the University of Missouri. But, depending on whether the House Budget Committee approves funding for two new prisons instead of one, Snider may have to try again next year.

If the committee decides to fund only one prison, an estimated $70 million could be freed up. With this in mind Snider is pushing for money to refurbish the College of Education's Townsend Hall, and begin construction on a new building for the College of Business and Public Administration.

"I can't and wouldn't lobby against a second prison. The prisons are growing at about eight or nine inmates per day," Snider said. "But if the committee decides to build only one, then we've got some projects for them to look at."

In all, the Department of Corrections is asking the legislature for $165 million for construction and renovation of prisons.

While statistics released by the Department of Corrections indicate that Missouri prisons are among the most overcrowded in the country, the endorsement for two new prisons by both Gov. Mel Carnahan and House Speaker Steve Gaw continues to face some opposition in the legislature.

House Budget Committee Chairman Sheila Lumpe said that in a straw poll she took several weeks ago, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the Budget Committee opposed the second prison. However, she said the committee is now coming closer to a 50-50 split on the issue.

In lobbying legislators for additional capital funds, Snider has prioritized the Education and Business school construction projects on the Columbia campus. While these are high priority items with millions of dollars in private donations at stake, Gov. Mel Carnahan's office and House and Senate leaders have stressed that this is not the year for big education increases.

"I don't see (additional prisons) as a choice," Gaw said. "The alternative is releasing inmates who are a risk to public safety. We have a significant problem with inmate population."

The Department of Corrections estimates that even if two prisons are built, they will be overcrowded by the year 2001. If inmates continue to enter the system at or above the current rate of 8 per day, Missouri corrections facilities will house nearly 35,000 inmates by 2001. Because Missouri prisons are so overcrowded, the state now houses nearly 1200 prisoners in Texas facilities.

"I don't think the governor makes the request for more prisons with any pleasure," Lumpe said. "I think the numbers are very clear."

Since stricter sentencing laws went into effect in 1993, Missouri's rate of incarceration has skyrocketed beyond that of other states. Average sentences have also lengthened by nearly 30 months.

Carnahan's press secretary Chris Sifford said lobbying by the governor's office has changed the minds of several legislators previously opposed to building two prisons. Sifford would not reveal which legislators are being targeted as key opponents of the governor's proposal.

Since Carnahan's proposal for a second prison became a contentious issue a few weeks ago, the Department of Corrections and the governor's office have floated a list of 18 cities and counties in Missouri who are interested in housing a new prison.

"It will certainly generate some enthusiasm from communities in the state," Lumpe said.

As to whether higher education projects are second on the list for funding after prisons, Lumpe said that question is up for grabs.

Before the issue goes onto the full House and Senate, the House Budget Committee must pass a form of House Bills 15 through 19, which include all requests for building and renovation projects. The committee is not expected to take up the prisons appropriations until late in the session. This year's legislative session ends May 16.