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Growing Inmate Population Means West Bottoms Facility Will Reopen As A Prison

A shortage of beds for Missouri inmates means a West Bottoms center for parolees and probationers will go back to being a minimum security prison.

Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi says there's an "acute shortage" of beds for inmates in Missouri prisons. He sent a letter to lawmakers last month detailing the department's reasons for converting the Kansas City Community Release Center into a facility for prisoners at the end of their sentences.

"Instead of asking for a $150 million prison, we're going to do this in the alternative," Lombardi says.

More prisoners, fewer beds

Lombardi says the 410-bed West Bottoms facility actually used to be a minimum security prison but was converted to house parolees and probationers at a time when the prison population was decreasing.

That's no longer the case.

"When I took this job [in 2009] ... I was very hopeful, very frankly, we could begin the process of shutting down prisons because they were no longer needed," says Lombardi.

Lombardi thinks a couple of things are driving up the number of inmates in Missouri: drug use, and mandatory minimum sentences that keep offenders in prison for a long time without the possibility of parole.

The state has actually made headway in the past five years cutting the number of former inmates returning to prison for new crimes. The two-year recidivism rate was 43 percent in 2009. It's down to 36 percent, a big drop.

Changes in the West Bottoms

Right now the Community Release Center focuses on rehabilitating former inmates who've finished their sentences. Over the next few months, those residents will be moved to other programs so the Department of Corrections can focus on inmates who are about to be released.

Neighbors won't notice many changes, as Lombardi says the facility will actually be more secure than it is now.

"The offenders that are at the facility now have access to that community on a day-to-day basis," he says. "The change will be that the offenders placed there will be under inmate status, and they will not be leaving the facility. They will not see those individuals whatsoever."

Lombardi says the prison will be reopened as the "Kansas City Reentry Center" in September.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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