JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Senate approved a bill to reduce the prison population and taxpayer spending by changing the guidelines for probation and parole.
Without opposition, Missouri's Senate has voted to create non-prison alternatives for non-violent 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, 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 an offender exhibits good behavior, they will be credited thirty 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 says 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.
Another guideline of the bill is that the division of probation and parole may place offenders into jail for a short period of time if the division of probation and parole 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 the bill states must be at least $30 per day. This section of the bill recieved some discussion from members of the Senate, some of whom were concerned that $30 may not be anough to cover the cost of housing these 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 offered, only one, suggested by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, was actually added to the bill. Crowell's amendment establishes a joint committee to review and potentially revise the Missouri Criminal Code. The amendment passed unanimously, and comes among many recent discussions suggesting Missouri's sentencing standards may be flawed.
Rep. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, introduced a bill that revises the criminal code. The bill is a result of collaboration between Missouri prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys.
The bill will be read in the Senate a third time, and providing there is no opposition, it will be sent to the House.