Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri 6/6/03

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They're not waiting another month, let alone another year, next door in Missouri, where cash-starved legislators passed reforms late last month. Gov. Bob Holden (D) is expected to sign the bill, which will go into effect immediately under an emergency clause contained within it. The reform legislation reduces mandatory minimum sentences for the least-serious felony offenders, including many drug offenders, while increasing sentences for violent criminals. It also expands the use of "shock sentences" and creates a presumption that offenders will be released upon their completion.

Missouri has been groaning under the burden of a swelling prison population fueled by nonviolent drug offenders, who make up more than half of all new prisoners in the state. Because of tough sentencing laws enacted in the 1990s, the state's prison population has nearly doubled to 30,000 inmates, while the Corrections Department budget has nearly quadrupled, to more than half a billion dollars for the fiscal year beginning July 1st, according to a legislative report, "Arresting the Overflow," coauthored by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Harold Caskey (D-Butler).

The reforms just passed would lead to the release of about 1,500 current prisoners, saving the state $21 million this year, with annual savings expected to double in coming years.

Under the reform legislation:

  • Mandatory minimum sentences for least serious felonies, including drug offenses, are reduced from five to four years. Prisoners serving sentences for the two least serious categories of felonies can petition for early release after 120 days.
  • Nonviolent second offenders are required to serve only 30% of their sentences, down from the current 40%.
  • Nonviolent first offenders will be sentenced to 120 "shock sentences" and then released under court supervision. While incarcerated, the prisoners will receive drug treatment and job skills training. While judges were able to do the same under the old law, the new law requires judges who fail to release prisoners who have completed the program into probation or parole to explain in writing to the Board of Probation and Parole why they did not grant supervised release.
  • The list of "dangerous felonies" requiring inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentences is expanded from rape, arson and 2nd degree murder to include first degree offenses of assault of a law enforcement officer, domestic assault, elder abuse and statutory rape and statutory sodomy when the victim is under age 12.
"There's a sense we don't have the right sentencing mix in the state," Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Matt Bartle (R-Lee's Summit) said after the bill passed the Senate 26-0 in April. "Our violent offenders probably need to be put away longer. Some of our lighter offenders probably shouldn't be incarcerated."

Now Missouri has taken a step in that direction. And by the way, the bill also bans human cloning. Just to be safe.

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Issue #290, 6/6/03 Editorial: Courage and Perseverance | Thousands Rally in NYC to Demand Repeal of Rockefeller Drug Laws | Medical Marijuana Cultivator Rosenthal Sentenced to One Day, Plus Probation | DEA Uses RAVE Act Threats to Block Montana NORML/SSDP Benefit | Dems on Drugs: The Presidential Contenders and Their Drug Policies | In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates | Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- No in Oklahoma | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri | Newsbrief: Feds Reject MPP Complaint Against Drug Czar | Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect | Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules | The Reformer's Calendar

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