Missouri has started the process of downsizing the number of prisons in the state with a plan to consolidate two correctional centers in the northwest portion of the state.

The state is planning to shutter the Crossroads Correctional Center and move the inmates and workers to the Western Missouri Correctional Center. Both facilities are in Cameron, Missouri. The consolidation plan was released on Wednesday as part of Gov. Mike Parson’s state budget recommendation.

The benefits to the plan are multifaceted, according to those involved. The move will help address the statewide corrections staffing shortage, give employees a pay boost, and increase efficiency.

“This decision is largely driven by our dedication to find efficiencies wherever we can in state government. And this can be done while ensuring safety, improving security, and delivering a much-needed pay raise — all being done with no layoffs,” said Parson during his State of the State address.

In his speech, Parson specifically said that he had absolutely no interest in building more prisons. According to the Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe, there has been a downward trend in the Missouri prison population over the last 18 months which is why they are planning to close a prison. The Crossroads and Western consolidation is the only one planned.

Crossroads is a maximum security prison with a capacity to hold 1,400 inmates. The facility is currently housing roughly 900 offenders. Western is a medium security prison with a capacity of 2,000 inmates. They are currently housing roughly 1,200 offenders at the facility.

Following the consolidation, Western would operate at full capacity. But don’t do straight math, Precythe warned, because when talking about the prison population, it does not work like that.

“We have 21 facilities, we move inmates across the state every week. And you move them for different reasons with lots of factors we take into consideration,” said Precythe. “It is not going to be an even, everybody just goes over there.”

To consolidate the prisons, half of Western would be converted to a maximum facility prison. The facility has a central services building right down the middle so they will be able to separate the maximum side from the medium side, with no mixing of the two inmate populations. Precythe noted that there are similar situations at other facilities.

Alterations to Western are expected to cost $3 million.

The Crossroads facility will not be completely closed, instead operating on “caretaker status.” The facility will no longer house inmates and only a small number of workers would remain to run the power plant that provides electricity to both prisons.

In all, the plan is projected to save the state $20 million, which will go back into the Department of Corrections operation budget. With that, they plan on giving employees — who are some of the lowest paid corrections employees nationwide — a pay boost.

“That’s part of the beauty of the governor’s recommendation,” said Precythe. “We are rewarding people for staying with the department. And they will get a 1 percent pay increase for every two years of service.”

The pay increase will be effective retroactive and in addition to the 3 percent pay bump all state employees will receive. In 2008, correction officers got an 8 percent raise through a statutory change.

Since the proposed pay increase is a budget line item, it will be up to future budget hawks to maintain the pay raise for years of services. The Missouri Corrections Officer Association is proposing a different pay bump that is a statutory change.

The Department of Corrections stressed that shuttering the Crossroads facility will result in no layoffs. Currently, there are nearly 400 total employees at Crossroads that will either move to Western or one of the other 19 prisons in the state.

In fact, this consolidation is considered a boom for the current shortage of corrections officers across the state. The state is currently about 800 correction officers — COIs — understaffed, according to the department. The number of openings for COII, COIII, CSI, and CSII positions is unknown.

For safety reasons, the department said it would not share how many of the Crossroads employees were correction officers. They did note it would make a significant dent in the staff shortages.

“We are able to hire employees. Our problem is retaining them. 44 percent of our correctional officers are less than 12 months on the job,” said Precythe. “I need experience in our institutions, that’s what helps to create a safe work environment for our staff.”

Which is why this proposal is so beneficial, she noted. Consolidation will help lower the number of vacancies while rewarding employees who stay with the department.

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.