Missouri to cut prison visiting hours in September

Sunday, June 20, 2010 | 4:28 p.m. CDT; updated 8:26 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 21, 2010

ST. LOUIS  — Missouri plans to cut visiting hours in most of its prisons starting in September to save money.

The Department of Corrections, which houses about 30,000 inmates, saw its budget cut this year by $4.5 million, to $660 million.

"With the current fiscal climate and how the budget is and never knowing what's around the corner, we've been taking at look at how we can become more efficient," Department of Corrections spokesman Jacqueline Lapine told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The change would affect 18 of the department's 20 facilities and hours will continue to vary by institution. Missouri corrections officials say they are uncertain how much money the changes will save.

Generally, visits have been allowed Thursday through Sunday at most facilities. Friends could visit on Thursdays and Fridays, with weekends reserved for family. Under the changes, Thursday visiting hours would be eliminated.

Total visiting periods would be lengthened on Fridays but end at 6:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday visiting periods would be shorter and end earlier.

Some corrections experts say the cuts may be misguided because family visits and educational programming are crucial components in rehabilitating criminals.

"Prisoners who are able to maintain quality contact with loved ones throughout a prison term have a much better chance of post-release success in the community, and a much lower recidivism rate," said Terry Kupers, an Oakland psychiatrist who works with inmates and has studied the effects of prison visitation.

But corrections officials say that so far this year, the number of prisoner visits is down about 5 percent from last year, when the state recorded about 285,000. They also say the cuts will reduce the need for employees to process visitors and staff the visiting rooms.

And officials point out that inmates will still be able to communicate through letters and phone calls.

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