Missouri lawmakers push for prison reform to address overcrowding

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(Missouri News Service – Farah Siddiqi) – Some Missouri lawmakers want to lower the jail population, especially for older incarcerated people, due to safety concerns and staffing shortages.

A new proposal has surfaced to bring state prison populations down, but it would require approval from Congress. The Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act would pay states to rethink their sentencing policies and reduce their prison populations.

Hernandez Stroud, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is proposing, pointed to state prisons as the core issue in mass incarceration, holding 87% of people incarcerated in the U.S.

“Congress could help states break the cycle of excessive imprisonment and its devastating impact on families and communities by offering funding as an incentive to both shrink state prison populations and implement humane alternatives,” Stroud contended.

Every year, around 128,000 people are booked into local jails in Missouri, although most jail stays are temporary. About 23,000 people are in Missouri state prisons.

According to the proposal, if the 25 states with the largest prison populations could reduce them by 20%, nearly 180,000 fewer people would be behind bars. Stroud believes it could also help to address some of the problems in the criminal justice system, such as wrongful convictions or extreme sentencing.

“A lot of states and jurisdictions have put into place mechanisms to review and catch convictions that were wrongful at the time,” Stroud pointed out. “States could also beef up systems that help release those from prison who don’t pose a threat to public safety.”

The Public Safety and Prison Reduction Act has yet to be introduced in Congress. Its $1 billion estimated price tag may be among the reasons. A similar proposal, the “Smart Sentencing Adjustments Act,” was introduced last year but has not made progress.

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