Prison populations tax states' budgets

Missouri's gloom-and-doom economic performance in recent months is almost overwhelming at times. But the picture is becoming clearer that we're not alone.

Take the prison situation. Missouri barely scraped up enough money to open a badly needed state-of-the-art prison in Bonne Terre. A wing of the maximum security prison in Charleston has never been opened for the same budgetary reasons, although word came this week it could open in the summer.

But consider Pennsylvania, where prisons are bursting at the seams and two new prisons aren't being used due to budget troubles.

In Illinois, a $143 million correctional center was completed two months ago and remains empty.

Nevada officials closed down a wing of one state prison to save costs and plans to cancel an expansion on another. The list goes on.

Prison populations everywhere have mushroomed in recent years not because there is more crime, but because there are stiffer mandatory sentences. As states continue to face financial difficulty in generating enough revenue to pay for ever-increasing levels of spending, some thought may have to be given to laws that require non-violent offenders to be imprisoned when there isn't enough money to operate the prisons we have.