Missouri looking for ways to save money on inmate burials

Missouri Department of Corrections

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri prison officials are seeking bids from funeral homes to provide burial and cremation services for inmates who die behind bars and have no family members willing to claim their remains.

Bidding documents call for the least expensive wooden boxes and grave liners as part of a Department of Corrections effort to reduce the $62,000 taxpayers spent last year to bury indigent inmates.

Of the roughly 32,000 Missouri prisoners, 55 of the 104 who died behind bars in 2015 were not claimed by family, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/2fWZrnv ).

With an aging inmate population spending more time in prison because of long, mandatory minimum sentences, corrections officials want to formalize the process for handling those who die there.

Currently, the department usually notifies inmate families when a prisoner dies, but not all of them want the body or can afford the expense of burial or cremation. In those cases or cases in which a prisoner had no family, the state pays for the disposal of the remains.

Burial now is left up to local prison officials, who work with a local funeral home. Corrections officials hope a bidding process will reduce how much is paid for those services.

Missouri’s prison population has more than doubled since 1990 when it was 14,074. There are 1,415 incarcerated offenders over age 60.

Corrections officials listen to family members if they express a preference on what they want to be done with their relative’s remains, DOC spokesman David Owen said. If a family chooses burial, the department will pay for a marker or use funds left in the inmate’s account, he said.

Other states deal with the issue in various ways. Texas operates a cemetery for inmates, while Louisiana uses inmates to make coffins in which to bury fellow prisoners.

Missouri used to have a cemetery for inmates at its now-shuttered state penitentiary in Jefferson City, but the department no longer maintains any burial sites.