The goal is to cut recidivism rates, increase public safety and at the same time, cut costs in Missouri prisons. Legislators and state officials are working with prison analysts to find out how.

The Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections is leading an aggressive process to submit comprehensive legislation by January to reform Missouri’s prison system. Representative Chris Kelly of Columbia is a former judge and co-chair of the group.


Kelly says it’s not about being soft on crime, but it is about ending the cycle for repeat offenders through drug courts and couseling. He says cutting costs and inmate populations are also a goal. Another aspect is building a better relationship between counties and the state. There is currently a broad divide on sentencing from county to county, Kelly says, especially when comparing rural to urban areas.

He says some violent criminals need to stay … some forever. But he says for some, such as non-violent repeat drug offenders, there’s a better way. Kelly support Supreme Court Judge Ray Price who points to the success of Missouri’s drug courts, which helps offenders repeat the cycle of abuse and incarceration. Drug offenders comprise the largest portion of the state’s inmate population. And as that population continues to climb, so do the costs of running the state’s correctional facilities — about $600 million per year.

The group is working with an independent crime analysis company And the PEW Charitable Trusts, which have worked with several other states in looking at trends and data to make recommendations for policy change.

Senate and House leaders are joined by Supreme Court Judge Ray Price, Corrections Director George Lombardi, Governor Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster in figuring out how to reform the system. They hope to push an aggressive timeline on the study in order to introduce legislation by January 2012.

“The goals of this effort are improved government efficiency and effectiveness,” House Speaker Steven Tilley says. “Fortunately, there are evidence-based practices and policies that have been shown to reduce recidivism at a lower cost to taxpayers. We must learn from other states and adopt those policies that achieve more public safety with fewer public resources. To do anything less is either wasteful, harmful or both.”