Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (6)

By Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D.

“New York’s success against crime over the past two decades,” observes Franklin Zimring, the author of The City that Became Safe: New York’s lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control, “has proved the wrong headedness of the incapacitation or nothing’ strategy.”

Second:  The next stage of reform needs to be action that substantially reduces correctional costs.   A recent U.S. Senate survey of  prison  wardens  from  across  the  country  revealed    that  half of their charges could  be released  tomorrow without  jeopardizing public safety.

Missouri needs to immediately parole one-quarter of its prisoners, with another 20 percent over a three-year period. The lancing of the correctional carbuncle, even with the increased investing into transitional support and community supervision services, will shave over $200 million from the prison budget. Thus, in turn allowing such reinvestment in higher education from which it has been diverted from in the first place.

Third: Missouri needs to institute a prison building moratorium. With yet another opportunity-cost of $110 million and then even more having been cut from the state’s mental health care budget since 1999, resulting in jails and prisons becoming the second largest inpatient mental health warehouses in Show-Me-Land, liberal compassion and conservative fiscal sense dictates that no more prisons should be built in Missouri. State resources for community care and development of her citizens needs to be invested elsewhere than in razor wire and death-fenced compounds.

Prison space is an expensive criminal justice resource and should not be used to incarcerate more than 70,000 Missourians. This will require the redrafting of sentencing and parole policies, as well as increased transition and reintegration programming support. To keep from simply refilling cell space (i.e., once you build it, they will find ways to fill it) and in turn expanding the circumstantial need for even more prisons, mandatory minimums need to be abolished. Existing long-term sentences, without 85 percent served before parole eligibility requirements, are more than sufficient to protect the community and express societal deterrence. The throttling of personal reformation and restricting government’s future options only stimulates the parasitic growth of the prison-industrial complex.


The University of Missouri does not begin its realigned membership in the South Eastern Conference until the 2012-2013 academic year. Thus, the retroactive comparison is valid.

Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., has received The Nation/I.F. Stone and Robert F., Kennedy journalism awards for his reporting on correctional and educational issues. Portions of this analysis were derived from his dissertation, “Pell Grants for Prisoners:  An Issue in Public Administration.”  He is also the author of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada (Prison Legal News 2009).

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Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (5)

By Jon Marc Taylor


The results of this mulish criminal justice social-engineering policy is the present circumstance  of  public higher  education in the Show-Me State. In 1977, the legislature provided 47 percent of the University of Missouri – Kansas City’s (UMKC) operating revenue. This year before the proposed further 12.5 percent cut a mere 15 percent of its budget is state subsidized. In just the past three years, factoring in the governors proposed slashing budget cuts, the per-student appropriation at UHKC will have dropped from $9000 to $5700.    As a consequence, the Kansas City Star, with matter of fact reporting, observed that “students and their families will have to shoulder [an ever] larger part of university revenue through tuition checks.”

There is an old saw where one does more and more with less and less, until eventually one can do everything with nothing. Is this the inevitable outcome for higher education in the Show-Me State? Will “public” colleges and universities be such literally in name only, because state allocations eventually will only cover the costs of signage and stationery?

During the process of this composition, the blow back from the proposed budget cut was vitriolic enough that the governor reduced his proposed cut from $106 million (i.e., 12.5%) to $66 million. Thus, instead  of  state  higher  education  suffering a 32 percent budget cut over the previous four years, it shall instead have to weather only a 29 percent funding reduction. Moreover, with the continued funding reductions since 2007, the ratio between the budget allocations for higher education and corrections has shrunk even further, until factoring the proposed education cutbacks, the Show-Me State will be spending 75 cents to 80 cents for every dollar invested in higher education. In other words, a ratio that is half to twice as much as Illinois and Kansas allocate, achieving the same public safety outcome with their correction systems.

The Show-Me State’s well-established trend of slicing and dicing the higher education budget to finance its homegrown prison-industrial complex will eventually result in the dubious distinction of spending more state money to imprison the populous than educate them.


Unlike Diogenes carrying his lamp in daylight, futilely searching for an honest man, the solution to this accumulating academic catastrophe is easy to identify: Just reverse the policies that created the tottering asinine tragedy in the first place. Reform the state’s criminal justice policies to reflect realistic needs and expectations.

Such reform would constitute three broad facets: (1) recognition and education, (2) substantive penal population reductions, and (3) redistributing the flow of correctional dollars back into the investment of higher education from whence the funding was originally diverted.

First: Reform must begin with the political recognition that the problem exists. A bipartisan task force could provide the acknowledgement of the crisis, expose the true opportunity-costs of the present policies, and provide the political protection necessary for reforms to be enacted. By acting rationally, with the long-term social welfare of the commonwealth in mind, the politicians can campaign on being “smart on crime rather than “futilely tough on us all.”

Other states are acting similarly. New York and Michigan, for example, have modified or abolished their draconian mandatory drug laws. Yet other states are increasingly issuing paroles, with those who had abolished such altogether moving towards their reinstitution. While recidivism rates nationally have increased to 50 percent of all offenders being re-incarcerated within three years of their release,    only 20 percent of paroled long-serving prisoners however are similarly rearrested.  Additionally, released lifers are no more likely to be rearrested for violent offenses than paroled property or drug offenders.

The results of these types of reforms can already be evaluated by looking at New York1 s example. Over the past two decades, as the nation collectively increased its use of incarceration by 65 percent, New York decreased its use of imprisonment by 28 percent. By changing policing, sentencing and rehabilitative/reintegration services, the homicide rates in New York City dropped by 😯 percent, robbery rates decreased by 83 percent, and burglaries dropped by 86 percent. The demand for expensive prison bed space declined so much that the state has closed two prisons, and portions of others.

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Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (4)

By Jon Marc Taylor

Not only does Missouri proportionally lock up more of its residents than Illinois or Kansas, it does so for far longer terms as well than in any of the surrounding states. Missouri judges routinely sentence offenders to prison in excess of the national norms, to the point that Show-He State prisoners serve sentences approaching two-thirds longer than the national average.

Approaching two decades ago, the Missouri Legislature, in a pique of political pandering of “get tough on crime” rhetoric, enacted poorly thought out Truth-In-Sentencing statutes, mandating violent offenders serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentences before becoming parole eligible. Since then myopic legislators have more than doubled the number of offenses receiving mandatory 85 percent terms by extending the sentencing laws to various offenses, and now to some white collar crimes as well.

Part of the political calculus involved in these legislative decisions is that by adopting Truth-In-Sentencing guidelines, for the following decade the state tapped in $50 million of federal largesse a year via the 1994 Crime Control bill’s carrot and stick prison building enticement. The short-sighted problem with the capturing of this federal funding infusion is that it eventually ran out, leaving a $50 million hole (i.e., 10% of the DOC’s then operational requirements) in the correctional budget. A budget moreover that had to support by then an existing penal system locked into incarcerating a policy-driven not a crime-driven economically and socially distorted prison-industrial complex. Legally unable and politically unwilling to adjust to a smaller, more comparatively equitable system of incarceration, the Show-Me State legislature had to further raid the higher education and other social service budgets to makeup the new and annually perpetual $50 million funding hole.

None of this was, or should have been, a surprise to the folks who are elected to run the state government. In his thorough 2001 report to the Missouri Legislature, “Arresting the Overflow,” State Senator Harold Caskey concluded that “sentencing practices across the state are one of the primary reasons for prison crowding.”

Supporting the senator’s findings, Professor John Wooldredge in his analysis of sentencing policies and prison overcrowding for the Journal of Crime and Delinquency concludes that mandatory sentences are the cause, if not the primary cause, of the Missouri’s prison overcrowding problem.

Increases in the use of imprisonment over the past three decades have been much more the result of policy decisions drug arrests,  harsher sentencing laws,  increased revocation of and restrictions  in granting  paroles   than escalating crime rates.   The Sentencing project predicted more than decade  ago that “any marked downturn in the economy and /or political drive toward large tax cuts will require hard choices among areas of public investment.”

Those choices have been and are continuing to be made now. The proverbial chickens are coming home to roost in the Show-Me State. By policy choices made of who to lock up and for how long have directly contributed to the fiscal conditions causing nearly 100,000 of the poorest and most infirmed Missourians to no longer have Medicare coverage Missouri state workers are the lowest paid of all 50 states, causing some of them to actually qualify for food stamps. And for this analysis, Missouri parents sending their children to state colleges and universities are paying for far more than tuition. They are subsidizing the cost of a needlessly bloated penal system.

With “the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law” being the state’s motto, how well are we governing that welfare when we perpetuate a prison-industrial complex financed at the expense of everyone else?

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Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (3)

By Jon Marc Taylor

“For years and years,” observes Robin Cook, an MU senior and student activist, who lobbied the State General Assembly in 2003 not to further cut the university budget, “the legislature has decided  that higher  education  is essentially the  whipping boy for state government,”    For Robin and  tens of  thousands of other students, between 2002 and 2004, the rate of tuition at the University of Missouri – Columbia rose 28 percent.”

In 2008 State Senator Ken Jacob, whose district included the University of Missouri – Columbia, and who also advocated for more funding for higher education, noted that other Big 12 Conference schools did not have the same overall spending demands as Missouri. “They don’t have the number of people in prison. They don’t have the roads to maintain, they don’t have the number of mentally ill, they don’t have the number of Medicaid problems we have” (emphasis added).    The cited “problems” though were largely self-chosen ones.


“The astonishing thing about the rates of incarceration in the United States,” observes Franklin Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute of the University of California, Berkeley, “is that they’ve been going up for nearly thirty straight years.”

The astonishing thing with the rate of incarceration in Missouri is that not only has it perpetually increased, it has done so at a faster rate than in the socially-economically comparable sister states of Illinois and Kansas,

What is even more perplexing is that Americans have never experienced a lower overall crime rate,  since accurate standards were established thirty-five years ago, than the present time.

Missourians are no more or less safe than anyone else, yet each taxpayer of the Show-Me State finances a much larger prison system than is justified. At least for a penal complex solely rationalized for the purpose of public safety alone.

Crime rate indexes for Illinois, Kansas and Missouri are essentially the same. And as already cited, are the lowest they have ever been overall  in the  modern era.  Yet costly prison populations, however, are markedly different between the states. Adjusted per-hundred-thousand residents for equitable comparisons, Missouri incarcerates 30 percent more prisoners than  Illinois, and imprisons a gluttonous 45 percent more offenders than Kansas.

Moreover, this Midwestern prison-industrial behemoth consumes 7.4 percent of the general fund in the Show-He State, as compared to 5.2 and 5.6 percent, respectively, of the Illinois and Kansas general funds. A difference that is directly relatable to the student-cost of tuition at their respective public-supported colleges and universities. A ratio nonetheless that by 2007, that demonstrates for every public dollar invested in higher education, the states of Kansas spent 40 cents and Illinois 51 cents on corrections, while Missouri diverted 67 cents into prisons for every dollar invested collegiate support. On average, the Show-Me State spent 30 and 35 percent more prison dollars compared to higher education allocations  than  its  sister  states  of  Illinois  and Kansas. The bottom line outcome, however, were nearly identical crime rates.

Many factors have affected the decrease in crime. Too varied to detail in this essay, the eminent criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University and Mien Beck, director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, examined the huge growth in the nation1s prison populations, concluding in 2004, that changes in crime commission explained only 12 percent of the rise in penal numbers, while harsher sentencing policies were responsible for 88 percent of the increases   (emphasis added).  Succinctly put, Vincent Schiraldi, president of the  Justice Policy  Institute, states  “there  is  no  credible  link  between  crimes  rates  and incarceration rates.” The Midwestern sister state comparison detailed herein supports this analysis.


Two factors drive prison rates: admissions and length of stay. The equation of the number of persons sentenced to or returned to prison and the amount of time they end up serving behind bars push prison rates. ‘Who goes to prison or is returned to prison, and for how long they remain there varies from state to state, and from era to era. What determines these factors is politics.


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Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (2)


By Jon Marc Taylor


The cost to Missouri students and their parents has been and remains direct and immediately punitive. The end result is that ever- fewer educationally qualified students, primarily from the poor and working class strata, the majority minorities, many of whom would have been the first in their families to go to college, are progressively being squeezed out of higher educational opportunities. As already mentioned, the University of Missouri is now the most expensive public college in the Big 12 Conference, and many of the university system’s professional programs, such as dentistry, medicine and optometry, are among the most expensive state supported schools in the country.

By the 2003-2004 academic years, the UM-system, along with other Missouri public universities cost of tuition was 50 percent above the national average.  In comparison, to the Kansas University system, the match up was even more glaring. In 2001, it was 81 percent more expensive for an undergraduate student to attend the University of Missouri at Kansas City, as it was just thirty miles westward at Kansas University in Lawrence.

The reason for this tremendous disparity is the difference in state support the two university systems receive.  Though not immune from the forces affecting state support  of higher education, Kansas with its “populist tradition,”   has maintained greater emphasis on widely affordable access to college-level opportunities. For example, shortly before the millennium, the Show-Me State contributed 6.9 percent of its budget to higher education, compared to the Sunflower State’s which was nearly twice that at 13.9 percent.16 This was not simply a one-time anomaly either. For “some 20 years,” commented John Wittstruck, Missouri’s deputy commissioner of higher education in 2001, “higher education in Missouri was underfunded significantly.”

While the State of Missouri invested less in higher education, what it spent on prisons soared. In 1983, corrections received 2.9 percent of the state budget. By 1988, just operating (and not the eventual billion-dollar-plus expense of new facilities building) prisons consumed 7.9 percent of the general revenue. Between 1985 and 2000, adjusted for inflation, the change in the state’s investment in higher education increased 57 percent; however, the change in spending on prisons in Missouri ballooned 236 percent.

For the 2002-2003 fiscal year, Missouri reduced investment in higher education by another $100 million, while correspondingly increasing prison spending by $92 million; nearly a dollar for dollar tradeoff. Missouri was then ranked second in the country for the most severe cuts in higher education (-10%) in 2002-2003, while overall nationally state governments had instead slightly increased (+1.5%) their university investments. As a result, the Show-Me State received a grade of D+ (i.e., for the percentage of family income needed to pay tuition and in financial aid for the poor)  in the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education’s  biennial  report,  “Measuring Up  2002.”  And yet mulishly in the following 2003-2004 budget, the state’s university system lost another $32 million in funding.

“Two pots of money fund public colleges and universities the state and students,” comments Travis Relndl, policy analyst with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  “What you don’t get from one, you pull from the other.”  Tuition increases at public colleges, the association goes on to report, match losses in state funds “almost dollar for dollar.”  With the near dollar for dollar tradeoff coming from Missouri’s proportionally ever -shrinking higher education budget to fund the homegrown prison-industrial complex, the burden has shifted. Instead of the state subsidizing the largest proportion of public higher education’s costs, it has now become the students and their families essentially subsidizing the penal system.

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Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (1)


By Jon Marc Taylor

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

                                                                                                                    — Thomas Paine

Last month, Missouri’s governor (and former two-term Attorney General) released his proposed budget, calling for a “drastic” 12.5 percent cut to the public higher education allocation to balance the states books. This cut, nigh “hacking” of 100 million someodd-dollars from the forthcoming public higher education budget, is on top of years stretching into decades of cuts and less-than-in flat ion increases.

Gary Ebersole, chairman of the University of Missouri system’s intercampus faculty council, noted that “if inflation were factored in we would be at funding levels from the 1980s,” In no small understatement, Ebersole commented, “this is not good news for Missourians.”

Less than a week later, public universities across the state announced undergraduate tuition increases ranging from 7.5 to 9.0 percent, with graduate and professional programs receiving similar increases as well. Increases, moreover, on top of fee rates already making Missouri public colleges and universities the most expensive in the Big 12* Conference.4 This expense is directly related to the Show-Me State’s needlessly bloated penal population.


The more the story changes with the passage of time, the more in remains the same. Exactly one decade ago, nearly every state department endured budget cuts, with higher education bearing the largest with 10 percent of its allocation reduced. Yet, perhaps not surprisingly, one agency, the Department of Corrections nonetheless, not only did not suffer a budget cut, it received a seemingly perpetual increase. The short-term end result of those cuts was on average 20 percent tuition and fee increases for the state’s public colleges and universities between 2001 and 2003. 7

This outcome should not be surprising, since prison funding had been the most rapidly proliferating budget item in Missouri since 1930, more than tripling over the subsequent fifteen years.   In the eight years alone between 1993 and 2001, the BOC’s demand on state resources grew from $191 to $501 million, a mere 162 percent increase.   In 2002,  the budget  year this  section began with, the correctional budget was increased yet again to $512 million.10

Yet five years before, in 1997, the Senate Appropriations Chairman, Mike Lybyer, told University of Missouri (UM) Interim President, Mel George, the university system would “have a lot more money if you could tell us how to keep from building more prisons in this state.

President of the UM Board of Curators, Malaika Horner, concurred with this assessment. Further adding, “I dont think anyone thought corrections would overshadow our mission of education.”

Finding a solution, the senate chairman emphasized to both educators, “could be one of the best things you could do for higher education.”

Either the educators got lost within the matrix of the prison-industrial complex, or they never even engaged in the quest for the Holy Grail of penal fiscal reform. By either route, the legislature’s failure has cost the Midwestern commonwealth dearly.

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