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State prison panel to release final report

Monday, December 12, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A committee examining Missouri prison and sentencing systems was preparing to release recommendations it estimates could save the state several million dollars and allow a prison housing unit to be closed.

The Jefferson City News Tribune reported Saturday that the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections planned to release a final report this week. The panel of state lawmakers, Corrections Department officials and representatives for prosecutors, defense attorneys and the courts estimates that proposed changes could save state government $3 million to $12 million per year.

Missouri officials have worked with the Pew Center on the States to analyze current sentencing laws, prison populations, probation programs and recidivism rates. Other states that have undertaken similar studies have directed more nonviolent offenders to enhanced probation and drug treatment programs.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Jay Nixon, Attorney General Chris Koster, legislative leaders and court officials held a Capitol news conference to signal support for the effort. They said their goal was to boost public safety by rehabilitating more people and save money by incarcerating only those whose crimes warrant prison.

One possible change focuses on people who violate their probation. The working group is likely to recommend officials be allowed to incarcerate someone who violates probation immediately in a local jail for 48 hours.

State Sen. Jack Goodman, a co-chairman for the working group, said people who commit "technical violations" of their probation need immediate consequences as a reminder that rules must be followed, but some violations are not equivalent to committing a new crime and should not result in a new prison sentence.

"Today if someone violates probation or parole, they may be waiting months or a year-and-a-half or more, before they deal with the consequences of that action," said Goodman, R-Mount Vernon. He added: "If they know that they're likely to spend this weekend in the can, they might be less likely to do the thing they shouldn't do, right now."

Goodman, who was an assistant prosecutor in Dade County from 1997 to 2002, said data from across the country indicates that violations decrease when there is quick punishment for a probation violation.

Work group members said the next step will be persuading state lawmakers to implement the recommendations.

Missouri Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price said lawmakers need to be convinced that the changes would save money and spend funds on "evidence-based practices that will save money."


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