Bills in the Missouri House could reduce the state's inmate population as well as reduce operating costs for Missouri prisons.
House Bills 382 and 372, sponsored by St. Louis Democratic Reps. Rasheen Aldridge and Kimberly-Ann Collins, respectively, would allow for the accrual of "good time credit" for Missouri prison inmates. According to the bills, good time credit is time that, once earned, shall be subtracted from the offender's release date.
The House combined the bills into one for a hearing.
"When you pass this bill, it's going to change the morale," said Richard Jackson, a pastor and formerly incarcerated man who testified Wednesday in favor of the bill before the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee. "I know how it is. When you put those incentives out there, and it's all on the board and it's like, 'Man, they're giving us good time,' people start to act different. They really think about going to see their children. ... It's in your hands, all you got to do is pass it."
The bill would award 60 days credit to any qualifying inmate who receives a degree in prison (GED, college diploma or vocational training certificate), completes a substance abuse treatment program as outlined by a court or parole board, completes 1,000 hours of restorative justice, or completes other programs in prison.
Good time credit can still be given to an inmate whether they will be released, and the parole board will still decide when an inmate is released.
"I have always been a fan of bills like these," said Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Bowling Green. "The state can oftentimes seem like it's punitive when people do something wrong, so I think it's appropriate, then, to reward good behavior."
Perkins said similar bills proposed in previous sessions had passed through the committee unanimously.
"Our job, when we have these offenders, is to rehabilitate. And so, once we've rehabilitated, we need to look at ways to go ahead and move them through the system and not just keep them there for an indefinite period of time," said Rep. Chris Dinkins, R-Lesterville.
Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, added the bill would not change any laws about sentences and would not change anything concerning people sentenced to life in prison. Veit is chairman of the Corrections and Public Safety Committee.
NAACP Missouri President Nimrod Chapel Jr., of Jefferson City, testified in favor of the bill, citing the large impact it could have on people from all backgrounds.
"This bill ... it relates to hope and the real purpose of incarceration not being retribution but rehabilitation," Chapel said. "Folks who have access to these programs have better lives, and if they can create those better lives inside, take those outside and put those to work as productive taxpayers providing for families ... it's going to be better for everyone, not only for incarcerated people but for the families that are waiting for them to return."
Doug Wright III, a Jefferson City resident who testified for the bill on the behalf of Building Community Bridges and the NAACP, recalled his time in prison during the hearing.
"It was programs like this that helped me get myself together. ... At the time that I took these programs, the victim impact (program), those type of things to get this good time, there wasn't no incentive for me to do it," Wright said. "I did it because I wanted to start working on myself. ... Offenders, sometimes we need incentives to help us start working on ourselves. This will change people's behaviors."
All witnesses testifying for the bill were in favor.
HB 372: Modifies provisions relating to good time credit for offenders committed to the Department of Corrections
Sponsor: Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis
HB 382: Modifies provisions relating to good time credit for offenders committed to the Department of Corrections
Sponsor: Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis