Nixon signs changes to sentencing laws
Saturday, July 7, 2012
Drug abusers, thieves and other nonviolent felons could shorten their sentences with good behavior under legislation signed Friday by Gov. Jay Nixon that is intended to reserve the state’s prisons for only the most dangerous and persistent criminals.
The new Missouri law won’t let people out of prison early, unlike similar money-saving initiatives in some states. Instead, it focuses on people under the supervision of probation and parole officers for certain nonviolent crimes.
For every month they go without a violation, the new law will give those offenders 30 days of credit toward their probation and parole sentences. Should they slip up, probation and parole officers would gain new authority to order them to jail for a few hours or days without undergoing a full-fledged hearing on whether to revoke their probation or parole. And judges also could impose 120-day shock sentences behind bars as an alternative to potentially longer prison sentences that can result from probation or parole revocations.
All the options are intended to steer nonviolent offenders away from long-term prison sentences and toward treatment services they need.
“The new law wraps together some of the best research-based strategies to hold offenders accountable for their actions and stop the cycle of recidivism,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. “It will improve public safety and help control the growing cost of the prison system.”
The legislation incorporates several recommendations made last year by a state task force that worked with the Pew Center. But it stops short of making sweeping changes. The study group, for example, said its recommendations for shortening sentences and modifying probation and parole revocations could have saved the state between $7.7 million and $16 million by 2017.
But a financial estimate included with the legislation that ultimately passed said the state will more likely see a net savings of less than $1 million during the next five years. That’s partly because the new law requires the state to reimburse county jails for holding people on probation and parole violations. It’s because the law limits the good behavior credits to only certain nonviolent offenders and requires that they complete at least two years of their probation or parole.
Nixon signed the law privately without fanfare or comment Friday, merely listing it among a dozen bills that had been enacted. Last summer, Nixon hosted a news conference in his office with other executive, legislative and judicial officials to highlight the start of the Pew Center study.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said the low-key signing of the law “doesn’t reflect a lack of enthusiasm” for it. He said the governor was out of the Capitol on Friday spending time with his family.
The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys issued a statement praising the new law for containing “common-sense reforms to the corrections system, centering on effective management of probationers as opposed to needless release of vast numbers of violent criminals.”
“By pouring more services into the front end — whether it’s drug treatment, education, some sort of training, and much more intensive supervision — the hope is that they won’t be getting revoked and going to prison in the first place,” St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who is president of the prosecutors’ association, said in an interview.
The new law creates a 13-member Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission to evaluate any reductions in criminal recidivism rates, costs savings and other results of the new sentencing provisions.
House Speaker Steven Tilley said Friday that he believes history will prove the new sentencing law to be a significant accomplishment.
“In the long-run, it could save the taxpayers money, and that’s an important thing,” said Tilley, R-Perryville, “and I think it brings some fairness to the process.”
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