Almost eight out of 10 of the people sent to jail in Missouri are incarcerated for parole or probation violations according to a report released on June 18 by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Around the country, states spend $9.3 billion each year jailing individuals who have failed to follow supervised release program rules. About a third of this money is spent on jailing people for minor violations like missing a drug test or violating a curfew.

The CSG report provides the most comprehensive analysis of the problem to date as it is based on information gathered from all 50 states, and it reveals that supervised release programs barely achieve a 50% success rate. Advocates for criminal justice reform say that probation and parole makes life extremely difficult for individuals who are trying to get their lives back on track, and they point to rules prohibiting contact with people who have criminal records that can be virtually impossible to follow in many communities.

Missouri is one of a dozen states that spend in excess of $100 million each year incarcerating individuals for minor technical violations. The sheer size of the problem recently prompted lawmakers in the state to modify supervised release programs with revised risk assessment procedures and improved communication between jail and community personnel. Incentives have also been put into place that reward good behavior. Had these steps not been taken, taxpayers in the Show-Me State would have had to foot a bill of $485 million to build two new jails.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may be aware of the difficulties faced by offenders trying to meet the conditions of their parole or probation, and they would likely support initiatives that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment. Attorneys could also point out the costs involved in traveling to and from meetings, appointments and drug tests to prosecutors when representing poor defendants who are accused of committing nonviolent crimes.