Our Opinion: Corrections bill aims to cut costs, protect public

News Tribune editorial

Credit lawmakers for attempting to reduce the costs of crime without compromising public safety.

Legislation to shorten terms of probation and parole for some nonviolent offenders has been approved unanimously by the House and overwhelmingly by the Senate.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-St. Louis County, would allow 30 days of credit toward the sentences for each month certain nonviolent offenders avoid violations of their probation or parole.

In addition, it would allow for 120-day “shock” jail sentences for firsttime probation and parole violations.

The legislation reflects recommendations advanced by the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections, assembled by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The governor now is reviewing the bill, but spokesman Scott Holste acknowledged: “The concepts in the bill are ones the governor’s office has been working on closely with legislative, judicial and public safety leaders to increase both public safety and efficiencies in our state’s justice system.”

Protecting the public while reducing the costs of incarceration is a difficult and inexact undertaking.

Lawmakers erred on the side of caution, tightening eligibility requirements for the good behavior credits.

As a consequence, projected savings have been revised downward, to less than $1 million over the next five years.

But we must start somewhere.

The annual budget for the Department of Corrections has escalated from $55 million in 1982 to $665 million in 2009; the annual cost to incarcerate an offender is $16,400.

And, the working group found violations of probation and parole accounted for 71 percent of admissions to the state prison system in 2010.

A provision of the legislation creates a joint committee to continue reviewing the issues of crime and punishment.

We encourage the governor to sign this measure, and we urge the joint committee to monitor its effectiveness.

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