JEFFERSON CITY — At a state budget hearing, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, asked questions about a new method that might alleviate the corrections department's budget pressures.
It 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 has 202 male and seven female inmates over the age of 70. Clements said he didn't know how much money Kelly's idea would save the department, nor did he give a definitive response to Kelly's suggested course of action.
The suggestion came at a meeting discussing the Department of Corrections budget for the next year. House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, instructed the six House appropriations committees to cut 5 percent from their budgets.
Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Manchester, chairman of the Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee, defended his committee's unanimous vote Tuesday against cutting $19 million from the Corrections Department budget at a hearing. Such cuts, he said, would force the state to shut down one or two minimal security prisons.
Referencing a statement from Clements, 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."
The closing of a prison could force the state to release non-violent criminals to make room for those incarcerated for violent offenses.
The corrections department was unavailable for comment after the hearing.