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Our Opinion: Criminal justice reform benefits state

July 14, 2019 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated July 14, 2019 at 5:05 a.m.

Credit Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Legislature for a new law that enacts several important criminal justice reforms.

Parson made prison reform a priority during the past legislative session, and the Legislature followed his lead. The governor signed the bill into law Tuesday.

The bill, according to the Associated Press, exempts some nonviolent offenses from a state law requiring people to serve at least 40 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent of their prison terms, depending on their number of previous prison convictions. The law could make some prisoners immediately eligible for parole, probation or early release when it takes effect Aug. 28.

Missouri has joined other states in a trend toward avoiding prison terms for non-violent criminals. Instead, the focus is shifting toward rehabilitation strategies.

That’s an admirable goal, especially since recidivism is a serious problem. As we said before, prisons in general need to do better at rehabilitating, rather than simply punishing.

The other benefit of the prison reform bill is a cost savings. The AP reported Missouri’s prison population ballooned to 33,243 in September 2017, but it had fallen to 28,038 as of last week. That’s due largely to other recent changes to Missouri’s criminal sentencing laws, the Department of Corrections said.

By fiscal 2023, the inmate population could drop by 925 more, saving the state nearly $5.9 million.

That savings is even more impressive considering a study suggested Missouri could be faced with spending millions on a new prison if population continued to increase.

The new law also bans the practice of so-called debtor’s prisons — putting people back in jail for having unpaid jail bills. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of columns shedding light on the practice.

The reforms in the bill Parson signed into law will have widespread effects that will benefit our state in various ways. We’re glad Parson, a former sheriff, and lawmakers made this a priority during the previous session.

Central Missouri Newspapers

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