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Profile of state prisoners shows more non-violent commitments

November 4, 1997
By: Jennifer Sheffield
State Capitol Bureau

State prisons take in more than three times as many criminals with non-violent convictions as those with violent convictions.

Jennifer Sheffield reports from the capitol.

OutCue: SOC

As the state continues to spend tax money building new prisons, you might think it's being used to protect you from violent crime, but it's not.

In fact, Corrections Department statistics show that persons convicted of a non-violent crime made up more than 3-4ths of the entering prisoners last year.

Their offenses included crimes against property, such as stealing, burglary, and forgery.

Also, persistent drunk drivers and drug offenders received more prison sentences than dangerous felons.

Springfield representative, Craig Hosmer, is the House Criminal Law Committee chairman.

Actuality:Craig Hosmer
OutCue: ...solution to that.
Contents: [109K WAV file] He says Missouri does incarcerate too many prisoners, but that there is no other viable solution.

Hosmer also expressed concern about repeat offenders.

After spending two years behind bars for a non-violent crime, Pat Nolan knows the effects of a prison sentence on a person's life.

Convicted on racketeering charges, Nolan was found guilty of taking bribes while serving as a California state legislator.

Now, Nolan serves as President of Justice Fellowship, a branch of Prison Fellowship which ministers to prisoners and their families.

Chuck Colson, who served time for his role in the Watergate Conspiracy, founded the international organization.

Nolan says Missouri is incarcerating people for the wrong reasons.

Actuality:Pat Nolan
OutCue: ...not afraid of.
Contents: [188K WAV file] He says that we should lock people up because we're afraid of them, not because we're mad at them, and also that we're putting non-violent criminals into a pit of violent felons.

Corrections Department numbers also show that the top five most frequent offenses for prison commitment in 1995 were non-violent.

In fact, the most common new inmate was there on charges of stealing, and the second most common for burglary.

And as far as sentence length, on average these non-violent offenders receive sentences of more than four and a half years.

Nolan says prison amputates inmates from everything positive in their lives.

Actuality:Pat Nolan
OutCue: called by.
Contents: [95K WAV file] He says when you get to prison you're stripped of your clothing, your watch, and even your name.

Once released from prison, Nolan says non-violent criminals have a hard time finding a job.

He says even if a former convict was in prison for writing bad checks, employers identify prison sentences with violent behavior.

In addition, a RAND Corporation survey of non-violent offenders found that serving a prison term increased the chance for committing another crime.

Nolan says prison over-crowding is another issue.

Actuality:Pat Nolan
OutCue: ...for violent criminals.
Contents: [173K WAV file] He says the government is doing a bait and switch by telling the people they're incarcerating so many criminals, but then not having the prison space to make violent criminals serve an entire sentence.

However, not everyone agrees that non-violent criminals are serving too much prison time.

Senate Republican leader Steve Ehlmann of St. Charles says that non-violent crime rates have decreased because of prison sentencing.

Some non-violent criminals like thieves and drug dealers choose crime as a profession says Ehlmann.

And in regards to spending money on two new prisons, Ehlmann supports it.

Actuality:Senator Steve Ehlmann
OutCue: ...judges the better.
Contents: [164K WAV file] He says the more jail cells available for judges the better.

Ehlmann serves on the Senate Corrections and General Laws Committee.

Tim Kneist, Corrections Department spokesman, says currently the state has several alternative sentencing programs.

Among these are electric monitoring and short sentences to the boot camp at the Farmington Correction Center.

I'm Jennifer Sheffield in Jefferson City.