by Dale Chappell
Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed into law in early July reforms to the state’s sentencing and parole laws that may help hundreds of prisoners obtain early release. The new measures allow prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses the chance for earlier parole and could make some prisoners eligible for immediate parole.
The change to the parole laws exempts some nonviolent offenses from mandatory prison terms before becoming eligible for parole. This move follows a national trend toward alternatives to prison sentences, with a focus more specifically on rehabilitation.
The new bill also eliminates putting people back in jail for failure to pay previous court and jail costs. This change is in response to a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court in March, which held that people can’t be thrown back in jail for not paying jail and court debts.
Both sides of the fence in the state Legislature supported the bill. “We have to do a better job” at criminal justice reform, said Parsons, a former sheriff and supporter of reforming Missouri’s criminal justice system.
The Missouri Department of Corrections estimates that the law could cut the state prison population by almost 200 this year — and over 900 by 2023. That means a savings of $1 million this year and almost $5.9 million by 2023.
The new law, however, will not affect some offenses, such as murder, assault, rape, and some serious levels of arson, burglary, and robbery. Top-tier drug offenses will still see mandatory minimum sentences, and sex offenders also are not eligible for any benefits under the new law.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums Vice President of Policy Molly Gill praised the new law. “We are especially glad to see these reforms made retroactive, because getting a fair punishment shouldn’t be something as arbitrary as the day you went to court,” she said.
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