More Support for Sentencing Reform
Writing in the Missouri Record, Mizzou political science professor David Webber highlights some of the hard numbers behind Missouri Chief Justice William Ray Price’s call to lessen the criminal sanctions on nonviolent offenders:
Missouri has twice the number of nonviolent offenders in prison [as] it did in 1994. The number of new inmates in 1994 was 4,857; in 2009 it was 7,220. The cost per inmate is now $16,456 per year or about $45.00 per day. The total appropriation to the Department of Corrections in 1994 was $216 million now it is over $670 million—an increase of over 300 percent[.] Worse yet, Missouri’s recidivism rate is 41.4 percent within two years.
Price is also concerned with inconsistencies in sentencing across the state’s judicial circuits. The average sentence for the lowest sentencing circuit is 4.5 years and for the highest circuit is 9 years.
The Chief Justice shares the same opinion that most citizens have about crime—violent, dangerous criminals need to be incarcerated—but he doubts the effectiveness of locking up first-time offending drug and alcohol addicts. Price states boldly: “We also know that simple incarceration, no matter how expensive, does not cure addiction. Treatment with strict judicial oversight does.”
If newspaper editorials are any kind of indication, the idea that we need a cheaper and more humane way of dealing with drug offenders and the like is extremely popular. Hopefully, political inertia will not doom such a worthy cause.