Missouri's Senate approves measure giving leeway to nonviolent parole violators

Thursday, March 1, 2012 | 7:36 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate gave initial  approval to a bill Wednesday that could reduce the prison population and taxpayer spending by changing the guidelines for probation and parole.

Without opposition, state senators voted to create alternatives to prison for nonviolent probation and parole violators. Bill sponsor Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vermont, said he hopes that by changing the parole and probation system, the state can reduce the number of inmates in prison, as well as deter offenders from returning to crime, thus saving taxpayers money.

The bill creates a new system in which offenders on parole and probation can earn credits for every month they do not violate the terms of their release. For every month of good behavior, an offender would be credited 30 days off of their original sentence. The bill does not remove those on probation and parole from punishment if they violate the terms of their release.

The bill provides that for the first violation, offenders will attend a mandatory 120-day correctional or rehabilitation program. Goodman said the goal of this program is to show offenders that violations will be taken seriously, while still allowing them the opportunity to return to parole or probation without returning them to prison for the full term of their sentence.

The legislation also states that the Division of Probation and Parole, a part of Missouri's Department of Corrections, may place offenders into jail for a short period of time if the division believes the offender has violated the terms of their release. The division would have to reimburse the counties in which the offenders are held for this period, which must be at least $30 per day, according to the bill. Some senators debated this section of the bill and said they were concerned that $30 may not be enough to cover the cost of housing the offenders.

Goodman said the primary goal of the bill is to not only reduce the number of offenders who return to prison but to ensure that those who violate the terms of their release receive immediate punishment.

"If they become accountable and can stay accountable for two years of supervision without a violation, they are much less likely to ever violate the law again, and if they're not breaking the law, our communities are safer," Goodman said.

Although several amendments to the bill were presented, only one, offered by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, was added to the original bill. Crowell's amendment establishes a joint committee to review and potentially revise the state's criminal code. The amendment passed unanimously and comes among many recent discussions suggesting Missouri's sentencing standards may be flawed.

Before the Senate took up Goodman's proposal, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, introduced a bill that would revise the criminal code. Justus said the bill is a result of collaboration between Missouri prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys.

Goodman's bill still requires final passage by the Senate before it can move to the House.

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