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Situation affecting families — and taxpayers
The Chillicothe Correctional Center houses 1,528 female inmates. The six-year-old, $121 million facility opened the final of eight housing units to make room for the exploding number of incarcerated females. Female offenders live in four-person rooms and sleep in bunk beds. News of the sharp rate of growth, caused largely from drug and DWI offenses, has some observers asking if electronic monitoring offered alongside drug and alcohol treatment programs would better serve taxpayers.

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor

The female prison population is exploding across the state of Missouri.

The number of female inmates at one correctional facility has more than tripled in just six years. In 2009, a $121 million correctional facility opened with 489 female inmates. Majority of those female inmates transferred from an ailing structure a few miles down the road.

Today, the Chillicothe Correctional Center houses about 1,528 female inmates.

As a result of the immense population growth, the Department of Corrections recently opened the final of eight housing units at the facility. Even the city of Chillicothe is feeling the effects of the rapid incarceration rate. Livingston County, where Chillicothe is located, was one of only two counties in the state experiencing an increase in population, states a recent press release issued by the city.

The Chillicothe Correctional Center is one of two female correctional facilities in Missouri. The other female correctional facility is located in Vandalia, about 100 miles northwest of St. Louis. It houses 1,716 female inmates.

To a large extent, the sharp rate of growth in women being sentenced to time behind bars comes from drug and alcohol abuse. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a 35.6 % increase in the number of female inmates imprisoned for drug offenses and a 32.6% increase in the number of DWI offenses.

“The female offender population has increased 21% from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2014 while the male population has increased 3.3% over the same time period. The largest increase occurred among female drug offenses,” states a state-produced document known as the Offender Profile.

In 2014, female offenders of drug related offenses were serving an average of seven years and for DWI offenses an average of 5.7 years. The increase of drug and alcohol offenses may in part be attributed to a number of females trying to self-medicate to treat a mental health problem.

According to the Offenders Profile, 31.9 % of female offenders were classified as requiring clinic care or medication, 19.6% suffer a mild mental impairment and .9% are classified as having a serious functional mental health impairment.

The majority of female inmates are white with the largest percentage between the ages of 30 and 34. “[T]he number of black female offenders has decreased 13.6%, and the number of white female offenders has increased 32.3%. While still a very small portion of the population, the Hispanic offenders increased 7.3%,” states the Offender Profile.

The average age of the incarcerated female population is 36.5. Over the past decade, the number of female inmates age 50 and over has risen drastically. Data suggests there are 338 incarcerated females age 50 or over.

Some compare the growing cost of corrections heath care with the aging of the inmates. Older offenders tend to have greater medical needs. In 2014, 257 inmates required 24-hour nursing, eight inmates were in residential care and 118 received daily nursing care, according to the Offender Profile.

“Incarcerated females in the Missouri Department of Corrections have access to comprehensive medical care and receive the same types of treatment for medical problems that other women are treated for throughout Missouri,” stated Owen.

For many observers, the incarceration of women inflicts severe consequences on the entire family structure and supporting community. David Owen, communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said 829 female inmates have registered their children to visit them in prison. Since only two correctional facilities in the state house female inmates, the children are often forced to travel great distances to see their mother.

Recently families with young children commuting to visit their mother have been forced to wait over an hour to enter the visiting room because it is operating at capacity. Many families have already traveled hundreds of miles to arrive at the facility, so waiting another hour with restless young children, who have been restrained in a car seat for hours, is not always practical.

The timeframes families are allowed to visit are limited to four hour increments on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In response to this situation Owen said, “Typically, weekend visits are designated for immediate family members only. Incarcerated offenders can also call or write to their family and friends. When a large number of families are visiting incarcerated offenders, other visitors may be asked if they would volunteer to shorten their visit to allow other offenders to visit with their loved ones. While the department works to ensure all scheduled visits for offenders occur, we do remind families and friends of incarcerated offenders that delays on visiting days can happen due to security checks and other penological issues that may arise.”

For a number of families, the financial burden of basic communication is too high. Even phone calls home can be expensive. Many argue that without maintaining personal interaction and meaningful conversations with their children, the family structure can deteriorate at a rapid pace.

According to self-reported information, 2,715 female offenders have at least one dependant, which includes children and significant others. Families with young children will more likely sustain financial hardships, less supervision, and a diminished sense of belonging. This amount of separation can cause anxiety and have a serious consequence on the child, experts say.

As the prison population expands, the financial burden taxpayers bear also increases. Recently, the “General Assembly appropriated $13.7 million for Fiscal Year 2016 for the Chillicothe Correctional Center,” said Owen.

But research by The Landmark discovered that $13.7 million referenced by Owen merely covers the payroll of the 455 correctional employees that work at the Chillicothe Correctional Center. The average employee is paid $1,281 twice a month, which amounts to an annual salary of $33,306.

It can be difficult for many taxpayers to stomach the financial burden the country’s prison system has become. Almost everyone recognizes that the rising incarceration rates are a direct outcome of the get-tough-on-crime initiatives. Many voices from both sides of the aisle have criticized either the mandatory sentencing guidelines that were imposed or the enhanced enforcement of the nation's drug laws. The tough-on-crime initiatives resulted in stricter enforcement and increased the probability of incarceration.

The female prison population is only a fraction of the male offender population. There are currently 29,297 males incarcerated in 18 adult correctional institutions in Missouri. The combined prison population in Missouri is larger than the population of Liberty, which is the 21st largest city in Missouri.

Additionally, they are 45,830 people on probation and 16,599 people on parole in Missouri.

To safely supervise and provide rehabilitative services to the 32,297 confined inmates, the Missouri Department of Corrections employs over 11,000 corrections professionals in the Office of the Director and four other divisions, including the Division of Human Services, the Division of Adult Institutions, the Division of Offender Rehabilitative Services, and the Division of Probation and Parole.

According to a recent annual report, it costs $57.42 per day to house each offender in the state of Missouri. The offender's healthcare, wage, discharge costs, food cost, operational expense, fringe benefits and costs of outside agencies are among the required expenses the government must provide and taxpayers must pay to house an inmate.

In contrast, it costs $15.52 plus general supervision costs to monitor an offender electronically.

This year, the Missouri Department of Correction's budget is more than $725 million. That is an increase of $150 million since 2005.

Compared to the rest of the nation, the incarceration rate per 100,000 people is higher in Missouri. Missouri imprisoned 522 offenders per 100,000 residents in 2013.

In recent years, the Missouri Department of Corrections has had to deal with a number of challenges due to the immense growth in the prison population.

“The department frequently monitors trends in the offender population in order to effectively manage any fluctuation in the population with the resources and facilities that are available,” said Owen. “Recently, the department transitioned the Kansas City Community Release Center into the Kansas City Reentry Center, a minimum security facility for males, which began accepting incarcerated offenders in September.”

This is a perfect example of the Missouri Department of Corrections' ability to adapt to the increasing prison population. But many observers are beginning to ask themselves one critical question—if the present growth rate continues for another 10-15 years, how much money will Missourians be feeding the Department of Corrections to map out prisons across the state?