House Bill 2 was signed in Springfield and in Liberty near Kansas City Wednesday. Its focus is to get more offenders into treatment courts with the goal of keeping them from repeating their behavior.
At the bill signing, Republican Governor Mike Parson said the specialized courts are crucial for getting lives turned around.
“The main goal would be how do you get these people back into the workforce, how do you give them the skills they need and get them cleaned up to where they are productive citizens,” Parson said.
The bill also expands the state commission that oversees treatment courts and gives offenders the chance to transfer to locations that have these courts, rather than going to jail for repeating offenses.
“Our prison systems are pretty well to the max, and there are no plans to build more prisons. So, we’ve got to figure out alternative sentences, which we should,” said Parson.
The lawmaker who was key in handling the treatment court legislation was Springfield Republican Representative Kevin Austin, which is one reason Parson chose to sign the bill in Springfield. Austin says numbers show treatment courts are successful, noting offenders who go through such programs are 50% less likely to commit felonies, and over 66% less likely to commit misdemeanors. He says treatment courts benefit everyone.
“Treatment courts are not just for the defendants, it’s making our communities safer,” said Austin. “(It) is returning citizens that were drug abusers, drug users, back into productive members of our society. It also helps us in that it’s going to lower jail population. Anytime we lower recidivism, we lower jail population, and we’re saving taxpayer dollars”.
The first treatment court began in southeast Missouri’s Greene County in 1998, and there are currently about 1,400 participants in various programs due to charges stemming from mental health and substance use.
Governor Parson called a special session of the Legislature this summer, in part to reshape the treatment court legislation he had previously vetoed. At the time he said the bill appeared to violate the original purpose and single subject requirements of the Missouri Constitution. He stated that the bill as passed contained at least 13 different subjects, including many that don’t pertain to the final title of “courts”.
(Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed this report)