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Missouri implements new program for non-violent offenders

As in many states with a tight budget this year, Missouri lawmakers are looking in some unconventional places to cut costs. Prisons have previously been considered off the table for savings, since most Missouri residents agree that they are a necessary part of the criminal justice system. An updated study on the state's use of the prison system and an analysis of the costs versus the benefits of prison time tells a different story.

For nonviolent offenders, little progress is made towards rehabilitation or increasing public safety during a prison sentence. Alcohol and drug abusers in particular are not well served by time behind bars, and often repeat their crimes when they are released. Similarly, the state spends considerable time and money locking up people who have violated the terms of their probation.

The study showed that about 43 percent of those cases were the result of technical violations, such as failing to report a move or missing an appointment with parole officers.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle agree that there must be a better way for the state to handle these individuals without putting such a burden on the prison system. One of the justices from the Supreme Court of Missouri also voiced an opinion on this issue, pointing out in a 2010 speech that while the state spent billions incarcerating repeat drug and alcohol offenders, they didn't seem to be making a significant dent in crime rates.

The result is a new program that involves better community supervision and less time in prison. Parole officers will now be able to use county jails for short stays for parole violators, costing only $30 per day and available immediately. In addition to being less expensive for the state, the program will also benefit nonviolent offenders throughout Missouri. They will have better access to rehabilitation programs and will be able to continue to live and work in their own communities while they are supervised by the court.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Missouri Legislature passes sentencing, parole guidelines," Virginia Young, May 3, 2012.

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