Thanks to recent legislation signed by Governor Jay Nixon last week, nonviolent criminals in Missouri with good behavior may see their sentences shortened. The legislation is aimed at drug abusers, thieves and other nonviolent felons who are clogging up the state’s justice system which the Governor wants to see reserves for the most dangerous and persistent criminals.
The new law won’t simply open up the jail cells and release people from prison early. Instead, the idea is that the law will reduce the expense of probation and parole by focusing on offenders already out of jail. For every month such nonviolent offenders go without a violation, the new law will give those offenders 30 days of credit toward their probation and parole sentences.
Along with a carrot comes a stick and the law allows probation and parole officers to order those under their supervision back to jail for a few hours or days without having a full revocation hearing. Judges will also be allowed to impose 120-day sentences as opposed to potentially longer prison terms for those that have violated the terms of their parole. The point of the law is to direct nonviolent offenders away from lengthy sentences and toward treatment and rehabilitation.
The legislation that recently passed includes several recommendations from a task force created last year to review ways of reducing probation and parole revocations. The current bill isn’t nearly as sweeping, as the task force recommended changes that would save the state between $7.7 million and $16 million by 2017. An analysis of the current legislation says that the state will likely see savings of less than $1 million during the next five years.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys issued a statement praising the new law for making “common-sense reforms to the corrections system, centering on effective management of probationers as opposed to needless release of vast numbers of violent criminals.” The group said that the new law smartly puts more money into treatment and rehabilitation, a change that’s far more likely to fix problems early on and avoid the need to go to prison in the first place.
Along with the law comes the creation of a 13-member Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission. The Commission will be tasked with evaluating any reductions in criminal recidivism rates, costs savings and other results of the new sentencing provisions and reporting back to the legislature on its findings.