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It’s about time and about money: Missouri’s Sentencing Advisory Commission’s cost analysis


While I have staked out the territory of Ozarks law and economy for this blog, I’m humbled that the New York Times is doing a great job of researching and writing stories on my turf. The quality of the reporting is superb; those whose opinion of the Times is based on aversions to the biases of its op-ed writers (David Brooks, Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof) will find the news stories about Missouri to be evenhanded and well-sourced.

Ten days ago, the Times reported on Missouri’s public defenders refusing to take more cases, a situation that came to a head in Christian County, Missouri, across the street from my office in Ozark.

Today, the Times reported on the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission’s provision of cost information to judges, so that judges can have some idea of how much the taxpayers will have to pay for various sentence imposed by judges on criminals. The cost estimate is just one of several factors that are provided to judges, along with other statistics that will give a judge some ideas about what will may be accomplished by various sentencing alternatives, based on past results. You can read the Sentencing Advisory Commission’s newsletter, Smart Sentencing, to get the details.

Most categories of crime in Missouri have been declining since 1990, yet the amount taxpayers spend for dealing with the consequences of crime,  has not declined. The Christian Science Monitor presented six reasons given by criminologists for the decline in crime, and one of them is high rates of incarceration (the others are aging of the population, better policing, availability of unemployment benefits, social programs, and few opportunities). The trend of decline started before conceal-and-carry legislation was adopted.

If we wish to spend less tax money on prisons, we should make rational decisions on which criminals need to be locked up in which kind of prisons for how long. The Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission should be commended for trying to save taxpayer money on the basis of evidence.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

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