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Parson urges innovative solutions to improving criminal justice system

LINN, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson told attendees at a forum on justice reinvestment that he has no interest in building any new prisons in Missouri. He urged the stakeholders to help come up with innovative ideas to overhaul the current system.

Parson was just one of several speakers at an all-day discussion centered around reducing the amount of Missourians that are incarcerated.

“We are not doing a good enough job,” said Parson on the state of Missouri’s criminal justice system.

The Show-Me State has a rising rate of violent crime while the nation’s average is on a downward trend, the state is short nearly 800 correction officers and has one of the highest rates of incarcerated female population, and the highest percentage of inmates are reoffenders — including those who violated parole.

Going back to his days as sheriff, Parson noted that a large percentage of those in jail weren’t “bad people,” they were just people who made “terrible choices.”

“There is a very special group of people who belong in our prison for the rest of their life,” Missouri Director of the Department of Corrections Anne Precythe said. “But there are a large number of people in our system that maybe don’t belong there for as long as they are or are ready to be released and we need to release them. My goal is to make sure we reduce revocations because we changed behavior.”

The forum was centered around finding ways to do better in corrections and reduce the number of beds occupied in prison.

“I have no interest in building any more prisons in the state of Missouri while I am governor,” said Parson. “What I do have an interest in is how to make sure…is how do I help them get educated, how do I help figure out how to get them ready for the workforce.”

Through four different sessions — that focussed on improving infrastructure to better support victims, behavioral health needs of those in the criminal justice system, understanding crime and supporting law enforcement, and reducing revocations and recidivism — heavy hitters from around the state gathered for an in-depth discussion.

Keynote panelists included the Director of the Missouri Department Public Safety Sandy Karsten, Missouri Parole Board Chairman Don Phillips, Missouri Director of Mental Health Mark Stringer, Director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development Rob Dixon, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe.

“One of the things we know we have to do, we got to figure out how we take people who are incarcerated and how do we put them on the right path when they are released,” said Parson. He noted they also have to figure out how to get formerly incarcerated people into the workforce and keep them out of prison.

Part of that equation is programs within prisons, better community support for those on parole, getting those with mental health illness treatment, getting those with drug addictions treatment, instilling behaviors that lead to productive lives, and not having a one-size-fits-all mentality, noted a combination of speakers.

All of which plays into justice reinvestment, the title for the forum. Justice reinvestment is defined as a data-driven approach to improve public safety, reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods.