JEFFERSON CITY - After learning the state may be forced to release non-violent inmates due to space constrictions, a House appropriations committee chairman urged members of the Budget Committee to consider the people of Missouri's safety amid cross-departmental budget cuts.
Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St. Louis County, chairman of the Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee, defended his committee's unanimous vote against cutting $19 million from the Corrections Department budget at a hearing Tuesday. Such cuts, he said, would force the state to shut down one to two minimal security prisons.
Referencing a statement from a Corrections Department spokesperson, Scharnhorst said, "His statement at the time was 'I will definitely have to close one institution, possibly two. It would be minimum security.' He designated that right away."
As previously reported, the closing of a prison could force the state to release non-violent criminals to make room for those incarcerated for violent offenses.
At the hearing, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, inquired about a possible method that could alleviate the Corrections Department's budget pressures.
The method Kelly asked about would allow elderly inmates to be granted parole and move into a nursing facility of the state's choice. Once prisoners are no longer incarcerated, they can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare and reduce health costs for the Corrections Department.
Adult Prison Director Tom Clements said the state currently has 202 male and 7 female inmates over the age of 70.
Clements said he didn't know how much money the idea would save the department, nor did he give a definitive response to the suggested course of action.
The Corrections Department was unavailable for further comment following the hearing.
In order for Gov. Jay Nixon to maintain his pledge to freeze in-state tuition, House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, instructed all six House appropriations departments -- including Public Safety and Corrections -- to cut five percent from their budgets.