Missouri's budget problems have prompted lawmakers to consider steering some people convicted of such lesser felonies as knowingly damaging property by burning and sexual misconduct with a child into treatment or probation programs, rather than prison.MORE: On the Missouri proposal.
The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill that would bar prison officials from housing people convicted of the least severe state felonies unless the offender has two previous felony convictions. The plan is expected to save the state millions of dollars.
Those convicted of certain higher level felonies -- including forgery, passing bad checks, drug possession and identity theft involving less than $5,000 -- also could not be held in state prisons unless they have a previous felony conviction.
Instead, offenders would be directed to treatment programs such as special drug and drunken-driving courts, given probation or sent to county jails.
Missouri lawmakers are seeking to cut hundreds of millions from the state budget because of falling state revenue. The idea of shrinking the state's prison populations was considered last month when the Senate spent the day informally discussing various ideas to overhaul state government.
Sponsoring Sen. Matt Bartle said the bill is designed to trim Missouri's prison population by 2,000 people over the next two years. He estimates it could save $26 million in part by allowing a state prison to be closed. Currently, Missouri incarcerates about 30,000 people.
"The prison system isn't free," said Bartle, R-Lee's Summit. "It costs people money and decisions have to be made. Triage has to be made."
The legislation also allows the state parole board to release nonviolent offenders who are admitted into special drug or drunken-driving programs if agreed to by prosecutors. ...
The savings from the legislation's changes would be split. Half would be kept by the state and turned into general revenue that can be used for other state programs. One-sixth would go each to the Department of Corrections for community supervision, trial courts, and counties to house people convicted of the lesser felonies who are then sentenced to jail.
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