Mandatory sentencing: It provides clear directions for judges when they hand down punishment to convicted offenders.
However, it has also been part of the reason for over-crowded prisons in the Show-Me State and nationwide.
On Thursday, members of the Missouri house voted 140-17 to pass a bill that would allow judges to ignore mandatory sentencing requirements for some lawmakers convicted of nonviolent offenses.
“I did vote for it,” says Neosho Representative Ben Baker. “There is a move for criminal justice reform. It’s one of Governor’s priorities and President Trump’s priorities.
“Anytime you can put that decision where judges can make a more informed decision than with mandatory sentencing, it might have a better turnout for that person. Plus, it is going to save money and our prisons and jails will not be as full.”
It now heads to the Missouri State Senate.
Sponsored in the House by Republican Rep. Cody Smith, the measure would allow judges the option to hand down less stringent sentences than those currently allowed under the law.
“I am a big advocate for reform,” Rep. Baker says. “I think that’s what you need to look at when you look at first time offenders and non-violent offenders.
“When you have the Teen Challenge program, you have programs with a very high rate of success, about 80% I believe it is something like that. That’s what judges need to be looking at for first time and non-violent offenders.”
Research has shown it could result in nearly 500 fewer inmates yearly and save the state up to $3 million.
Violent crimes, sexual offenses, crimes against minors and crimes in which guns are involved are not part of the bill.
“When you get someone who is a repeat offender, judges should try to help them,” Baker says. “We should say how we can help them and assist to not see again in court. There is no perfect answer.”
He mentions intentional infection of another person with HIV as being in its own category.
“When someone infects someone with HIV, it is not a violent crime but in some situations worse than a violent crime. I think in California it is not even a crime, which to me is insane. That is something to look at to make sure that isn’t a problem.”