New Missouri Law Could Free Hundreds from Mandatory Prison Terms

Yesterday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a new law that could make hundreds of prisoners immediately eligible for parole, probation, or early release. The new law exempts some non-violent offenses from a state law that requires people to serve at least 40, 50, or 80 percent of their prison terms, depending on the number of previous convictions. These changes begin on August 28, when the new law goes into effect.

Governor Parson, a former sheriff, said that the bill would help bring “reform to Missouri’s criminal justice system.” Click here to read the full text of the new law.

National Trend

The new Missouri law reflects a national trend toward more lenient prison terms for some low-level criminals as governments shift toward alternative strategies focused on rehabilitation. It received strong support from both Republican and Democrats as it passed Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature earlier this year.

Decreasing Missouri’s Prison Population

Missouri’s prison population peaked at 33,243 in September 2007, but fell to 28,038 as of Monday. The Missouri Department of Corrections noted that the decrease is due to other recent changes to Missouri’s criminal sentencing laws.

The Department estimated that the new law could decrease Missouri’s prison population by 192 people this year and by 925 people by the 2023 fiscal year. That could save the State {and taxpayers} $1 million in avoided prison costs this year alone. And nearly $5.9 million by 2023.

Mandatory Minimums Still in Place for Violent Offenses

The measure would keep in place mandatory minimum sentences for murder, assault, rape, child sex crimes, and the most serious levels of arson, burglary, and robbery, as well as various other crimes. It also would subject people convicted of top-tier drug trafficking offenses to mandatory minimum sentences.

This is a positive change for our criminal justice system and our state’s economics. We will continue to monitor how this law is put into effect. It will be interesting to see how many non-violent offenders get released from custody and how much money this saves tax payers in Southwest Missouri.

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