Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is planning to close Crossroads Correctional Facility in Cameron and transfer prisoners to the nearby Western Missouri Correctional Facility.
Officials said the move, announced during the Republican’s State of the State address Wednesday, would save the state millions of dollars. That money would go toward raises for Department of Corrections employees.
"This decision is largely driven by our dedication to find efficiencies wherever we can in state government and this can be done while ensuring safety, improving security and delivering a much-needed pay raise, all being done with no layoffs," Parson said.
Crossroads is a maximum-security prison that houses 900 inmates. Under the plan, half of the Western Missouri Correctional Facility, which is currently medium-security, would be converted to maximum-security.
"It's a win-win for the state and for the city of Cameron," said Anne Precythe, director of the Department of Corrections. "They're understaffed now, the population is down, so it makes good business sense to consolidate the two and then have a fully operational prison on the northwestern side of the state."
Crossroads employees would be able to transfer to another prison.
The timetable for the move wasn't immediately clear, and the GOP-majority legislature must approve Parson’s plan.
The Department of Corrections has been dealing with a staffing shortage, with 15 percent of its 11,200 positions currently open. Officials said the shortage led to a protest and later a riot over prisoner restrictions that caused damage to Crossroads in May. That prompted a months-long lockdown that ended in September.
A modified lockdown that followed was “neither arbitrary nor punitive,” but necessary to ensure the safety of staff and offenders, the department said.
But the department's handling of the situation drew criticism from some lawmakers. Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington of Kansas City said he was pleased that the governor is addressing the situation.
"With all the issues we've been having out there ... I was really happy when he said that," Ellington told KCUR. "It needs to be a top priority for our state."
Ellington also said he plans to meet with Parson and staff members to learn more about the plan.
"If you're going to close one correctional facility down, we have to talk about how we're running and maintaining all facilities," he said.
Also due to the shortage, the DOC has 15 staff members from the Chillicothe Correctional Center traveling to Cameron each day.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann contributed to this report. Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews