MO Sentence Guidelines May Be Helping Prison Rolls Shrink


Missouri’s prison population is falling back toward its 2003 levels, says the Jefferson City News Tribune. The state’s two-year-old sentencing guidelines may be one of the reasons for the drop. From November 2004 to October 2005 – the year before the new guidelines – the inmate population grew by 855, to a record-high 30,650 inmates. In the nearly two years since the guidelines began, there has been a drop of 865 inmates through the end of September.

A report to Gov. Matt Blunt and state legislators shows fewer instances of recidivism when judges follow the sentencing guidelines and recommendations. The guidelines are based on sentencing histories around the state, and they encourage courts to refer more offenders to 120-day, in-prison shock and treatment programs, and to reduce prison sentencing for nonviolent offenders with little prior criminal history. Judges follow those recommendations about 82 percent of the time. The return-to-crime rates are higher if judges imposed either a more severe or lighter sentence than was recommended. Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, who served as chief justice for the last two years and chairs the state Sentencing Advisory Commission, said “the study confirms statistically what we intuitively believed – that public safety is enhanced when judges statewide follow the recommended sentences.”


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