Republican House leaders try to eliminate reccommended sentences in Missouri.
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Republican House leaders try to eliminate reccommended sentences in Missouri.

Date: April 12, 2011
By: Brian Bondus
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 257

With Missouri lawmakers trying to save a penny any way possible, what to do with criminals has become an issue. Brian Bondus has more on the story.
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Wrap: For the last few years, Missouri's Supreme Court Justice has been urging state lawmakers to consider alternatives to prison for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

The idea is to cut the state's growing prison costs.

But, at the same time, there's a move in the state legislature to eliminate a state agency designed to give judges alternative ideas when sentencing criminals.

The Department of Corrections says an offender sentenced to probation cost the state about 4 dollars a day compared to 45 dollars a day for prison.  

As of 1993, Missouri's Sentencing Advisory Commission has given out recommended sentences to judges for every case. 

Republican Representative and House Judiciary Chair Stanley Cox from Sedalia has proposed a bill that would eliminate the commission and those recommended sentences.

Actuality:  COX10.WAV
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Description: "The products that they produce, I've decided, thats it's worth less. It would be better to have nothing, because it is really misleading reccomendations."

The bill currently is in the House rules committee.

On the other side, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mike Wolff is a member of the commission and says it serves another important purpose besides giving recommended sentences.

Actuality:  WOLF2.WAV
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Description: "It also provides risk assement information about those catagories of offenders."

Wolff also says judges do not have to follow the commission's recommendations, but he says 90 percent of Missouri sentences do fall within the recommendations given.

He also says attorneys can use these recommendations for a starting point for plea agreements. 

Here's Boone County Prosecutor Stephanie Morrell on how she uses the reccomendations.

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Description: "Its not a mandatory thing. It is information judges can use as well as alot of other information about the offender, about the victim, about the history, about the offnese."

Missouri is the only state to include estimated cost along with the recommended sentences. 

Representative Cox says the goal of any sentences is to reduce the chance that an offender will end up in the court system again. 

Some studies show that offenders who end up in prison have a much greater chance of committing another crime than to those sentenced to probation. 

University of Missouri criminology professor John Galliher gives an insight into life in prison.

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Description: "Well what you have in prisons are a lot of people who have committed crimes. There's no doubt about it and you throw them all together and low and behold they learn to be criminals if they are not already."

But Cox says this is a result of judges doing their jobs.

He says judges should send the more serious offenders to prison and those convicted of less serious crimes to probation.  

Cox says some of the sentences are too lenient and do not fit the crime.

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Description: "Some of the reccomendations on really very serious offenses are the people that almost anyone would think needs a prison sentence has actually been on several times for probation."

But Wolff says 85 percent of Missouri judges support the Sentencing Advisory Commission and summarizes the goal of the corrections system.


Actuality:  WOFL3.WAV
Run Time:  00:06
Description: "Save our prison space for the people we are really afraid of, not that we are mad at."

Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Brian Bondus.