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May 9, 2010

"Protecting the public while saving public money"

The title of this post is the headline of this op-ed out of Missouri, which is authored by a county-level prosecuting attorney. Here are some notable excerpts:

It is a myth that prisons are full of first-time nonviolent criminals.  Fewer than 7 percent of the inmates in Missouri prisons fall within the Department of Corrections’ definition of “first-time nonviolent offender.”  That means 93 percent of Missouri’s 30,000 prisoners are violent or chronic felony offenders, according to the corrections department’s own narrow definition.

More importantly, the term “first-time nonviolent offender” includes people who clearly deserve to be in prison.  The term does not mean the offender is incarcerated without good reason or, in some instances, does not pose a danger to the public.

For example, the department categorizes the following crimes as “nonviolent”: felony DWI offenders with four or more prior convictions; weapons charges; aggravated stalking; burglary while someone is at home; resisting arrest resulting in a risk of death; and escape involving the use of weapons.

Prosecutors recognize that the remaining offenders — far fewer than 2,000 inmates — may not normally pose a danger if released.  However, the vast majority of these offenders have already received multiple chances on probation and failed repeatedly.  Ultimately, judges must have the ability to incarcerate offenders — even nonviolent ones — if those people refuse to conform to the terms of court-ordered supervision.

Other inmates have committed a particularly aggravated nonviolent offense such as stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars or breaking into dozens of homes.  It is true that 41 percent of these offenders re-offend when released. It is also true that judges correctly recognized these offenders’ likelihood of victimizing others when originally sentencing them to prison.

Prosecutors agree there are cost-efficient solutions to address true nonviolent offenders in a way that promotes recovery and rehabilitation rather than simply punishing people through incarceration.  For example, drug and DWI courts can address the serious needs of addicts at one-third the cost of incarceration.  Such programs can keep people out of the criminal justice system forever if they are motivated to be successful.

May 9, 2010 at 07:54 AM | Permalink


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The classification of violent and non violent offenses depends on the criminal code of the particular state. Felony DWI could be a public order offense or a crime against persons if there was an injury or death. A weapons charge is commonly a public order offense as is an escape however an escape using weapons is more likely to be classified as a person crime. Aggravated staking should be classified as a person crime not a public order crime. Burglary of an occupied building should be classified as a person crime and in some states it is. If resisting arrest result in a injury it should be classified as a person crime. Arson of an occupied structure should be classified as a person crime not a property crime.

If you compare the original charge with the convicted charge you will some times find that an original robbery charge results in a conviction for theft. OTOH a original DWI charge can become a homicide if a injured persons dies of their injuries. It is very interesting to compare original with convicted charges because the change in offense type and severity can go both ways depending on the circumstances.

Posted by: John Neff | May 9, 2010 1:29:39 PM

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