Missouri’s Sentencing Advisory Commission has worked for years to devise a statistical model that helps judges decide which criminals to send to prison and which ones to place in community programs. The agency says its sentencing guidelines are a way to reserve prison space for the most violent offenders and to use community alternatives when they would best keep an offender from committing new crimes. Prosecutors have long criticized the guidelines as cookie-cutter justice, and they scored a victory yesterday when the Missouri House voted to abolish the commission, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Rep. Stanley Cox said the agency’s methodology was flawed and had the effect of promoting an agenda to reduce the prison population. “The end of this commission will, in fact, remove the inaccurate information that is communicated to our sentencing judges in the state of Missouri, whereby liberal judges are given cover to release from prison or reduce the sentence and give lighter sentences to the worst offenders, second offenders and violent offenders,” Cox said. The House passed the bill, 100-57. It now moves to the Senate, which has until May 13, the Legislature’s mandatory adjournment, to decide whether to pass it. Commission supporters said that its guidelines aren’t perfect but that they should be fixed rather than scrapped. At issue is the state’s development of “evidence-based” sentencing guidelines, which try to assess a criminal’s risk of reoffending as an element in whether to send the person to prison.