Pubdate: Sat, 27 Aug 2011
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2011 Columbia Daily Tribune
Note: Prints the street address of LTE writers.
Author: Henry J. Waters III


A New Attitude Dawns

Most of us can remember well the days when "oelaw 'n' order"  was the 
clarion call of society and government. Legislatures fell over 
themselves mandating harsher punishment for criminals, mainly longer 
jail sentences, giving judges less latitude for judging.

Lock-'em-up types thought throwing away the key would dissuade 
criminal activity. Instead, jails got crowded, straining public 
budgets at all levels.

In the past 40 years a few fledgling alternative sentencing programs 
have struggled to life, such as Reality House here in Columbia. More 
recently state government has become more serious, reducing sentences 
and creating alternative courts for dealing with drug and alcohol 
offenders with intent to help them recover and stay out of prison.

Yet last month the Missouri Department of Corrections said 30,771 
inmates are in jail, and the department is budgeted for $660 million 
in the coming fiscal year.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ray Price Jr. recently said we must get 
over the idea long jail time makes the offender better. "oeIt 
doesn't. We have to be smarter about what we are doing."

To that end, Gov. Jay Nixon this week highlighted the formation of 
the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections, co-chaired 
by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount 
Vernon. Nixon said the task force is looking at all aspects of the 
criminal justice system in an effort to reduce costs and hold 
offenders responsible for their actions. The working group, which has 
been meeting since June, is expected to complete a report in time for 
lawmakers to act on it during the 2012 legislative session.

The task force is supported by the Public Safety Performance Project, 
which is operated by the Pew Center for the States. Pew has been 
studing incarceration, probation and parole, recidivism and other 
factors, and will provide technical assistance and data analysis.

In Arkansas a similar study led to revamping sentencing laws, using 
probation and parole more often. Missouri might be somewhat ahead of 
Arkansas in this respect, but we have room for improvement.

On the face of it, hard jail time should be the last resort. It is 
the most expensive, least effective option, justifiable only when 
nothing else will work. Of course, sometimes this is the case, and 
judges should be left alone to make these calls when necessary, but 
state policy can encourage judges to use alternative methods.

Here in Boone County, alternative courts and lower-security 
monitoring are more widely used than in most areas. It will be 
interesting to see if the task force will highlight the effectiveness 
of programs in various parts of the state.

As mentioned here often enough to cause a collective sigh, legalizing 
drugs is the most powerful answer to crime and incarceration problems 
in the United States and supplier nations, but nothing of the sort 
seems imminent. Meanwhile, maybe Pew and the governor's task force 
can suggest helpful ways to react to the flood of inmates our 
prohibition policies cause.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart