05/03/2012 - During three decades as a St. Louis police officer and FBI agent, Gary Fuhr worked to lock up lawbreakers.
As he puts it: "I spent my entire career trying to make sure all our correctional facilities operated at maximum capacity."
But after becoming a member of the state House last year, Fuhr participated in an eye-opening study of who is in state prisons and why. Now, the south St. Louis County Republican is the chief sponsor of a bill designed to keep some nonviolent offenders out of prison by beefing up community supervision alternatives.
"It keeps our beds available for the folks who truly need to be locked up," Fuhr said.
The Legislature passed the bill on Wednesday and sent it to Gov. Jay Nixon, who is expected to sign it.
Last year, Nixon, a Democrat, and the Legislature's top Republican leaders teamed with court officials to set up a working group to analyze prison data and make recommendations. Crunching the data was the Pew Center on the States and staff from its Public Safety Performance Project, which has done similar work in about 20 states.
"The idea is, we can get more public safety at less cost," said Brian Elderbroom, a project manager at the Pew Center.
The most striking finding in Missouri's study: 71 percent of prison admissions resulted from probation or parole violations.
North Carolina and Arkansas have put in place similar administrative sanctions, according to the Pew Center.
"You may not need a long prison sentence to get into someone's head that when they're not following the rules, there's going to be swift punishment," Elderbroom said.
Read the full article, Missouri Legislature Passes Sentencing, Parole Guidelines, on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's website.