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Content date: 07/03/2007

State's implementation of new Sentencing Assessment Report proves successful

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s efforts to make informed decisions on criminal sentencing and probation supervision have resulted in the state’s leading the nation in diverting nonviolent offenders into effective community supervision, reserving prison space for violent and dangerous offenders.

A recent U.S. Justice Department report notes that Missouri – whose prison population declined nearly 3 percent in the 12 months prior to June 30, 2006 – was one of only eight states whose prison populations declined. Nationwide the number of inmates in state and federal prisons increased 2.8 percent to 1.56 million, the largest annual increase since 2000, according to the Justice Department. Missouri’s decrease was the largest in the nation.

Missouri Department of Corrections, in cooperation with the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, began a system of sentencing assessment reports in 2005 to provide judges with focused information on an individual’s risk factors, and recommended strategies for supervising offenders. The goal is to reduce the chances that an offender will re-offend.

Since November 2005, when the new system became effective statewide, the state's prison population has declined by nearly 700 inmates as of May 2007. This is a drastic change from the fiscal year preceding implementation, when the Department of Corrections reported an increase of more than 850 inmates in the state's prison population.

During that period, the Parole Board and the Department of Corrections also improved the system for evaluating inmates and developing effective parole supervision strategies, according to Larry Crawford, Director of Corrections. Also, significant changes have been implemented in the probation and parole supervision process, including a restructuring of the violation process and an emphasis on strengthening re-entry practices. Missouri has worked to tailor the response to violations of the conditions of probation and parole to the severity of the violation and the risks posed by the offender, using the least onerous response necessary to effectively respond to the violation. Inter-agency cooperation has been improved to engage a wider spectrum of community stakeholders in offender success, thus reducing prison admissions.

“To enhance public safety, we have to be smart about how we evaluate and manage offenders,” Crawford said. “Some offenders belong in prison, but for others, prison may make their problems worse… and the least we can do is to not make offenders more dangerous,” he added.

The Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, established by state law, consists of 11 persons, including a representative of the parole board, the state’s prosecutors, the public defender commission, a member of the Missouri Bar and private citizens appointed by Governor Matt Blunt, as well as Director Crawford. In addition to the Governor’s appointees, Rep. Danie Moore, R-Fulton, and Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, appointed by the leaders of the House and Senate, and two judges appointed by the Supreme Court also serve on the Commission. Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff chairs the Commission.

In carrying out its statutory duties, the commission says its mission is “to recommend sentencing that will provide protection for society; promote certainty, consistency, and proportionality of punishment; recognize the impact of crime on victims, and encourage rational use of correctional resources consistent with public safety.”

The Sentencing Assessment Reports grew out of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission's Report on Recommended Sentencing, submitted every two years to the executive and legislative branches. These sentencing assessment reports, commonly referred to as SARs, are designed to present timely and useful information about offenders and their crimes to judges and attorneys soon after a plea or finding of guilt to aid them in devising an appropriate sentence. The SARs give details about the severity of the offense, the impact on victims and the offender's risk of re-offending. They also set forth recommended sentence options and the appropriate correctional resources available – both in the community and in prison.

"Sentencing in Missouri is discretionary, and it is at its best when the decision makers have accurate and timely information about the offender, the offenses and the options available for sentencing," said Rep. Moore, who serves on the commission.

"We are pleased that, in the first year the new SARs were used, courts requested more SARs for pre-sentencing investigations, and 80 percent of courts requesting the report sentenced offenders within the recommended sentence range,” Rep. Moore said. “Missouri’s judges should be commended for their cooperation and for the helpful comments they have provided on this new system."

The commission's recommended sentences are based on data from actual sentencing practices of Missouri judges and the requirements of various sentencing laws. Corrections Director Crawford said that, since the new SARs were released, the department has seen a 12-percent increase in the number of sentences for violent offenses that fall within recommended ranges and a 10-percent increase in the number of sentences for sex offenses that fall within recommended ranges.

The commission this year will be publishing a desk book for judges on sentencing, and will be updating its materials to reflect new data on Missouri sentencing and changes in laws made in the recent legislative session.

Probation officers who prepare Sentencing Assessment Reports are being trained to use a nationally accepted test instrument for predicting the risk of sex offenders. The department also is undertaking a statistical outcome study of risk instruments for sex offenders.

For more information about Missouri sentencing, including an automated information program, visit the Sentencing Advisory Commission’s Web site at: http://www.mosac.mo.gov.

The U.S. Justice Department report, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006 (NCJ-217675), can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/press/pjim06pr.htm

For questions about the about the report or the commission, please contact Beth Riggert, Communications Counsel for the Supreme Court of Missouri, via cell phone at (573) 619-2849 or via e-mail at beth.riggert@courts.mo.gov or Brian Hauswirth, Chief Public Information Officer for the Missouri Department of Corrections, via telephone at (573) 522-1118 or via e-mail at brian.hauswirth@doc.mo.gov .


WASHINGTON -- During the 12 months that ended June 30, 2006, the nation’s prison and jail populations increased by 62,037 inmates (up 2.8 percent), to total 2,245,189 inmates, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. State and federal inmates accounted for 70 percent of the increase. At midyear 2006, two-thirds of the nation’s incarcerated population was in custody in a state or federal prison (1,479,179), and the other one-third was held in local jails (766,010).

The number of prisoners under the legal jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities — some of whom were held in local jails — increased by 42,942 prisoners (2.8 percent) during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006, to reach 1,556,518 prisoners. In absolute number and percentage change, the increase in prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction was the largest since the 12 months ending on June 30, 2000.

The growth in state prisoners was due largely to a rise in prison admissions, up 17.2 percent between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, releases from state prisons increased at a slower rate, up 15.5 percent. New court commitments totaled 421,426 during 2005, a 20.3 percent increase since 2000, and parole violators returned to prison totaled 232,229, up 14.1 percent.

Forty-two states and the federal system reported an increase in their prison populations during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006. Idaho had the largest percentage increase (up 13.7 percent), followed by Alaska (up 9.4 percent) and Vermont (up 8.3 percent). Eight states reported declines in their prison populations, led by Missouri (down 2.9 percent), Louisiana and Maine (both down 1.8 percent).
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