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February 9, 2011

Top judge in Missouri again talking up sentencing reforms

As detailed in this local article, headlined "Missouri's chief justice renews call for alternative sentencing programs," the head of the judiciary in the Show Me State is still looking to be shown some sentencing reforms.  Here is how the article starts:

Missouri's chief justice urged lawmakers today to find solutions to the state's prison overcrowding and to keep politics out of the selection of judges in his annual address to the Missouri Legislature. In repeating two themes from last year's similar speech, chief justice William Ray Price, Jr., said that the state continues to incarcerate too many people who instead belong in diversion programs to help them kick drug and alcohol habits.

"We continue to over-incarcerate nonviolent offenders, while we have failed to expand drug courts and other diversionary and reentry programs to capacity," Price told a joint meeting of the House and Senate. "The result is a state that is not as safe as we want it to be and a waste of tax dollars."

Price pointed to the staggering growth of Missouri's prison system to make his point. In 1982, the state had 5,953 prisoners and a budget of $55 million. In 2009, there were 30,432 prisoners and a budget of $665 million.

Price said in his speech that he, Gov. Jay Nixon, Speaker of the House Steve Tilley and Sen. Rob Mayer, the president pro tem of the Senate, have signed a letter seeking a federal grant to study alternatives to incarceration in Missouri.

Last year, Price's words spurred legislative action. Lawmakers worked hard on a plan to close one prison and divert prisoners to drug courts, though the effort ultimately failed. The Legislature did, however, add to DWI courts, in part a response to Price's speech and a Post-Dispatch series about the failure of DWI laws in the state. "This prison based strategy is not working and it is costing us an arm and a leg," Price said.

This year, though, the words seem destined to fall on deaf ears. Gov. Jay Nixon has already indicated he doesn't support an effort to close a prison. And a Senate committee studying judicial issues ignored the concept in meetings early in the session.

February 9, 2011 at 05:30 PM | Permalink


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It took mostly Republican demagogues the better part of 40 years to persuade Americans that locking up two and a half million of their fellow citizens would make them safer...and boost local economies in prison towns to boot.

So it's bound to take a while longer (and a good deal more political courage than we've seen to date) to undo the massive, budget-busting, horrendously destructive mess they worked so hard to make.

Posted by: John K | Feb 10, 2011 10:30:18 AM

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