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BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative
BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative

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  • With technical assistance from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project (Pew) and the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections analyzed prison population and cost drivers and considered a number of policy reform options.
  • Missouri's prison population more than doubled and corrections spending more than tripled between 1990 and 2011. In particular, technical revocations were a driver of the growing prison population. These revocations from both probation and parole accounted for 43 percent of all prison admissions in 2010.
  • The Justice Reinvestment Act, House Bill (HB) 1525, which passed in 2012, included modifications that strengthened supervision and capped time served for technical violations. One of those policies—earned compliance credits—has contributed to a nearly 10,000 person reduction in the probation and parole caseload.
  • Overall, JRI efforts were projected to reduce the Missouri prison population by 245 to 677 inmates by 2017 at a savings of between $7.7 million and $16.6 million.
  • In 2017, Missouri requested assistance to engage in a second wave of improvements through JRI to address an increase in violent crime, a growing number of women in prison, and a high community supervision revocation rate. Under the guidance of the Missouri State Justice Reinvestment Task Force, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is conducting an in-depth analysis of the state's criminal justice system. The task force plans to present policy options to the legislature for consideration in 2018.

Missouri joined JRI after decades of growth in its prison population and corrections spending without commensurate improvements in public safety. Missouri's prison population was 14,074 in 1990; by 2011, it stood at 30,729. Over the same period, corrections spending tripled and by fiscal year (FY) 2011, the Department of Corrections' budget exceeded $660 million. This substantial corrections expenditure failed to provide commensurate returns on public safety; violent crime in Missouri dropped only 2 percent between 1990 and 2000, while dropping 18 percent nationally. Compounding these issues, the state faced a $700 million budget shortfall in FY 2011.1 To improve public safety while bringing corrections costs under control, state leaders requested technical assistance from Pew and the Bureau of Justice Assistance as part of JRI.

To develop a bipartisan, interbranch plan, state leaders launched the Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections in mid-2011. The 15 members of the Working Group, co-chaired by a Senate Republican and a House Democrat, included state senators and representatives, judges, the state public defender, prosecutors, and representatives from the Department of Corrections. The working group also received technical assistance from Pew and CJI.

The working group met monthly from its first meeting in June 2011 through December 2011 and engaged a broad range of stakeholders to ensure sufficient opportunities for a wide array of groups to provide input on the process. To obtain this input, the working group established a local task force that included law enforcement, judges, local government officials, prosecutors, and public defenders. These stakeholders provided essential input on the policy reform process by identifying potential unintended consequences for local governments and by ensuring that new initiatives would have the funding support necessary to succeed.2

As part of its deliberations, the working group conducted extensive data analysis to identify the factors driving Missouri's corrections costs and population. With assistance from Pew and CJI, the working group drew data from multiple state agencies and programs, analyzed sentencing and corrections data, and audited corrections agency policy and state law. Additionally, it reviewed national trends in sentencing and corrections and discussed evidence-based practices in community corrections.

Data analysis found that probation and parole revocations were a major driver of prison population growth, accounting for 71 percent of 2010 prison admissions. The majority of these revocations were for technical violations of supervision rather than new crimes. In total, technical revocations accounted for 43 percent of Missouri's total prison admissions in 2010. Additionally, 63 percent of all admissions were for offenses that were nonviolent drug or property crimes. Finally, people were spending a long time on probation or parole, which put additional burdens on Missouri's probation and parole agency.3

Based on findings from the data analysis, the working group made six policy recommendations in December 2011. First, it recommended earned compliance credits for those on probation and parole to encourage them to comply with the terms of their supervision. Second, the group recommended giving probation and parole officers the ability to use short jail stays (known as "shock incarceration") to administratively sanction those on probation and parole. The third recommendation was to cap time served for technical revocations from probation and encourage the use of alternative programs so that prison space could be focused on people who have committed serious offenses. Fourth, the working group recommended creating an oversight body to monitor the implementation of improvements. Fifth, it recommended improving strategies for collecting victim restitution. Last, the group suggested revising the Missouri Criminal Code to improve its consistency and reduce its complexity.4

Recommendations from the working group were incorporated into HB 1525, the Justice Reinvestment Act, which was ultimately approved with bipartisan support in the 2012 Regular Session of the Missouri General Assembly. The bill was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon on July 6, 2012 and took effect August 28 that same year. The legislation adopted some of the recommendations of the working group, encouraging compliance with the terms of supervision with incentives and swift sanctions, capping time in prison for revocation to focus prison space on people who have committed serious offenses, and creating an oversight body to monitor reforms.5

Implementation of HB 1525 began immediately after the bill was signed. Missouri's Division of Probation and Parole was charged with calculating who could receive earned compliance credits. While the division faced initial challenges calculating the credits, by the end of FY 2013, technological improvements significantly improved the process. By December 2014, a total of 28,253 people had been discharged due to compliance credits. A second improvement, capping revocation terms through the use of alternative programs such as "shock incarceration" or drug treatment, was modified by further legislation in 2013; courts used the alternative programs 1,628 times. At the end of 2014, arrangements for a third improvement, administrative jail sanctions, were pending, and the Division of Probation and Parole was working to identify suitable facilities for piloting the sanction program. Finally, in accordance with the working group's recommendations, a substantial review and update of the Missouri Criminal Code was approved by the General Assembly on April 24, 2014.6

Responsibility for recommending how to reinvest savings is vested with the Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission, created by HB 1525. The Oversight Commission consists of 13 members, including judges, a victims' advocate, law enforcement, legislative leaders, a public defender, a prosecutor, and representatives from the Department of Corrections and parole board.7 Despite significant progress in implementing the policy changes, as of 2014, the high probation and parole workloads pre-reform, combined with increases in several types of sentences, have offset potential savings from the initial policy successes. Even as cost savings have yet to be realized, the Commission is looking ahead. The 2014 Oversight Commission report recommended devising plans for measuring and reinvesting future savings into evidence-based programs to build on initial reform successes and plot a sustainable future for reinvestment.8

HB 1525 was projected to reduce Missouri's prison population by between 245 and 677 people by the end of 2017 and to save between $7.7 million and $16.6 million.9 Monitoring impacts is the responsibility of the Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission, which is charged with analyzing recidivism reductions, cost savings, and other impacts of implementation.

According to an evaluation by Pew, over 30,000 people on parole and probation earned an average of about 14 months off their supervision time due to the policy changes in HB 1525. The report noted that the policy had no negative public safety effect, with new crime convictions the same for those who were impacted by the policy as those who were not.10 By capping the court-ordered detention sanction for certain people on supervision to 120 days in lieu of revocation, Missouri diverted 3,200 people from revocation and reduced the average stay for this subgroup by 11 months as of 2015.11 Additionally, the total probation population declined 21.8 percent from 2011 to 2016 and the parole population decreased by 16.7 percent during this time.12

Related Resources

  • Missouri Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission, 2014 Annual Report. December 2014. PDF
  • Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections Consensus Report. December 2011. PDF
  • Missouri Policy Shortens Probation and Parole Terms, Protects Public Safety. August 2016, The Pew Charitable Trusts. PDF

Updated October 2017


1 Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections, 2011, "Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections Consensus Report," Jefferson City: Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections. PDF
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Pew Charitable Trusts, 2012, "Public Safety in Missouri," Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts. PDF
6 Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission, 2014, "2014 Annual Report," Jefferson City, MO: Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission. PDF
7 H.B. 1525, 96th Gen Assem., 2nd 2012 Reg. Sess. (Missouri 2012).
8 Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission (2014).
9 Missouri Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections (2011).
10 Ibid.
11 "Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Data Tracker," Urban Institute, accessed September 10, 2017,
12 Ibid.
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