JEFFERSON CITY - The state's financial crunch will keep the new South East Correctional Center in Charleston from upgrading to a maximum security facility in the foreseeable future.
The delay means the prison, which will continue to receive medium-security inmates, will employ 80 fewer workers than originally planned.
Department of Corrections spokesman Tim Kniest said fewer staffers are needed to handle lower-risk prisoners.
"We don't have to go to as intense a staffing situation as we would with more violent inmates," Kniest said.
Kniest said until the state's financial future becomes clearer, the department has no guesses as to when the prison can be upgraded to maximum security.
The $70.9 million facility opened in October and was at about one-third capacity with 572 prisoners as of Feb. 8.
The prison is designed to hold 1,596 inmates. Kniest said prisoners will continue to be sent to Charleston until the facility reaches about 76 percent capacity, or 1,212 inmates.
Kniest said one 288-bed maximum security unit as well as a 96-bed minimum security unit for low-risk inmates who would do maintenance at the facility will not open as scheduled.
The prison expects available funding to employ 385 guards and support personnel during the upcoming fiscal year and is slated for 465 workers when it becomes fully operational, Kniest said.
Maximum security inmates are proven violent criminals and those serving long-term sentences, Kniest said. Medium security prisoners are primarily those serving time for property-related, non-violent offenses and those nearing the end of lengthy sentences who have exhibited good behavior.
State lawmakers who represent Charleston were disappointed to learn of the department's plans.
"It is distressing to me, and I'm sure it is distressing to the people who brought the prison to Mississippi County," said state Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston.
Black said the prison wasn't scheduled to become fully operational until mid-2003, but he is still concerned about coming up with sufficient, long-term funding for the facility. He also lamented that all the much-needed jobs there won't be filled as quickly as had been hoped.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said it would be difficult to fully fund the prison's needs for the budget year beginning July 1.
"The state budget situation continues to have it's ripple effects," Kinder said. "It is regrettable, but at least we got the prison built and up and running, even if not at full capacity."
The same can't be said for the Eastern Diagnostic and Correctional Center at Bonne Terre, which was completed last year but hasn't opened because of the state's budget problems. Gov. Bob Holden's proposed budget calls for partially opening that prison later this year.
Corrections officials requested $13.3 million for the Charleston facility for fiscal year 2003. Holden's budget is blank on the prison's line item, but $10.9 million is tucked away elsewhere in the department's suggested overall appropriation.
Charleston's budget for the current fiscal year is nearly $7.6 million.
State Rep. Glenda Kelley, D-St. Joseph, chairs the House committee working on the corrections budget. Kelley said the committee is still reviewing scenarios that could result in a corrections budget $35 million or $65 million smaller than the $571 million suggested by the governor.
"It's not looking good for anyone," Kelley said.
Corrections is one of the few state departments slated to get a funding increase above FY 2002 levels. The legislature appropriated $532 million for the current fiscal year.
Despite the suggested increases, corrections workers, like all state employees, won't get pay raises.