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NAACP Prison Branch 4097 at Jefferson City Correctional Center along with the undersigned would like to bring to light changes needed within the sentencing guidelines in the state of Missouri. We would like it to be taken into consideration that currently many offenders are subject to serving at least 85% of their sentences. Offenders under this category can include violent offenders, first-time adolescent offenders as well as seasoned criminals. This mandatory minimum or the “85% law,” as it referred to within the Department of Corrections and others throughout the Legal Community currently gives no consideration to a person’s actions within the prison setting.
In the state of Missouri our prisons are called Correctional Facilities and are supposed to be geared toward helping offenders rehabilitate and become productive members of our society. Often, this is not the case. Forcing longer time within the institutional setting not only has the potential to destroy families, cause irreparable psychological damage to offenders, but it also makes it harder for an offender to readjust to the society from which he or she was taken.
With this current mandatory minimum in place, there is no consideration placed upon the individual positive steps offenders elect to take which have prepared them for release and rehabilitated them to a point where they are no longer a threat to society. Continuing to house them within our prison system is a costly waste of our tax payer dollars. Whereas, releasing offenders who are ready to go back into society, adds to the state of Missouri’s tax revenue by placing people back in the work force, and in a position of being able to care for themselves and their families. This would create more specialized jobs within the Department of Corrections in order to help train offenders in life and job-skills which will benefit their successful transition, and potential monies for federal grants to help offenders stay employed, off the streets, and contributing to society.
It is a given that the longer the one is locked away, being told what to do and when to do it, the harder it will be to make a smooth and successful adjustment back into society, thereby increasing the risk of recidivism. With a reduction of mandatory minimum sentencing we are allowing for offenders to be well supervised for longer periods of time while out in the community right after incarceration—a time when help and support are most needed.
Incarceration is meant to be a measure of accountability for those who violate state laws. However, due to current laws prisons have become little more than warehouses of people with an expiration date. Yet, we as a society desire to spend less of our tax payer dollars on housing inmates. Simply put, the longer the sentence one is given, the more you pay to keep them institutionalized, and the greater the risk of a return to the Department of Corrections.
While it is understood that there is no way in which to make up for the loss of a loved one, or serious harm brought upon one’s person by crime, it should also be understood that offenders are punished for the crimes they committed at the time they were sentenced. Under our current laws, offenders are required to serve 85% of their sentence before they can even see the Parole Board, and then are often denied parole on the basis of the seriousness of their crime—something which will never change.
Under the 85% law, there is no basis for assessing whether or not an offender has made progress and is ready to re-enter society. Parole Boards have been stripped of their power to take into consideration all progress, good behavior, and growth that has been achieved under the Department of Corrections intense institutional supervision. Allowing for a reduction in mandatory minimums will restore power to the Parole board and allow offenders to be assessed as the individuals that they are, rather than on class, number, crime type, or any other type of simplistic, generalized guideline.
Addendum: There are many ongoing efforts to modify laws for non-violent and/or drug offenders. This proposal specifically targets violent and dangerous offenders subject to the 85% law. This proposal also is specific to those who maintain exemplary behavior and are meeting all program requirements while in the institution.