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Prison sentences for "non-violent" offenders could be cut short

April 29, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 5

JEFFERSON CITY - In response to shrinking space in prisons, the length of a sentence for non-violent offenders could be reduced under a measure that came before a House hearing Tuesday.

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, state prisons will be completely out of beds by 2005.

Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, has drafted a bill that Caskey said would not only create room in prisons, but save the state money.

Instead of being locked up, the bill would allow those convicted of certain "non-violent" crimes to serve some of the remainder of their sentences under supervision or in a government program.

The legislation would "make room for more violent offenders and kick out those that probably could do okay on probation," said a spokesperson for Caskey.

Matt Sturm, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, testified before the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee about the growing number of inmates in the prison system.

According to Sturm, the net increase in the prison population in Missouri is 3.5 inmates per day, and each inmate costs the state nearly $13,000 per year.

"It is much cheaper for us to supervise them in the community than for us to incarcerate them," Sturm said.

During the hearing, Caskey explained that the criteria for each non-violent offender would be determined by the court or the Department of Corrections.

Caskey also said those sentenced for felonies such as possession of narcotics, 2nd degree burglary or passing of fraudulent checks would be considered non-violent, along with class C or class D felonies.

Among the list of sentence reductions, those charged with class C or D felonies, with only two years remaining on their sentence could be taken out of prison and placed under house arrest.

The bill would reduce the maximum penalty for such felonies from five to four years.

And, it would allow those sentenced to 120 days in prison for certain non-violent felonies to be taken out of prison and placed under correctional supervision or into treatment programs.

State budget officials estimate that this bill could save the state $10 million dollars in the fiscal year beginning July 1, $18 million in 2005, and nearly $20 million in 2006.

In addition the bill would also:

  • Add 1st degree assault on a law enforcement officer, 1st degree domestic assault and first degree elder abuse to the list of "dangerous felonies."

  • Make participatiing in cloning research a class B felony

  • Make tampering with prescription drugs a class A felony

    The bill was unanimously passed in the Senate and faces a vote by the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee before going to the House floor for debate.