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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Missouri Lawmakers Consider Early Release For Inmates 65 And Older

The ACLU estimates close to 5,000 inmates in Missouri prisons are infected with hepatitis C.
File photo | Thomas Hawk | Flickr
The ACLU estimates close to 5,000 inmates in Missouri prisons are infected with hepatitis C.

Missouri lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow some inmates 65 or older to be released from prison early. 

The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Tom Hannegan, said a small number — about 100 inmates — would be eligible for an early parole hearing. 

To be eligible, state prisoners cannot have prior felony convictions of a violent nature and must be serving a sentence of life without parole for a minimum of 50 years or more. They must also have served 30 years or more of their sentence. 

It will be up to the parole board to determine whether the prisoners will be released. They must meet specific criteria. 

“They have to have an exit strategy,” said Hannegan, R-St. Charles. “They have to pass a psychiatric evaluation. There’s a lot of safeguards, safety nets in this process to even qualify for this.”

Sex offenders would not be eligible for early release. The measure would also require anyone granted parole to be placed on supervision by the Division of Probation and Parole for five years. 

If approved, the measure is projected to save the state $435,000 over 10 years. 

“We need flexibility in the system to also deal with aging prisoners, said John Ammann, a professor at St. Louis University’s legal clinic who testified in support of the bill. “There’s no need for the Department of Corrections to become the biggest nursing home in the state. We’re dealing with an aging population with very acute, complicated medical problems as people age. This bill helps give some flexibility to address that by saying, 'Serve 30 years, and we’ll take a look at the circumstances.'”

This proposal has been introduced in past years at the Missouri statehouse but has failed to generate enough support to pass. Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, said his primary concern is the victims of the crime. 

“I struggle with this bill; I think it’s good-hearted,” Roberts said. “My struggle is when you talk about parole, the victims of the crime and the victims’ family. If they want the promise that they were given, that this person is gone for at least 50 years, they’re going to have to come back and relive that event and testify at that parole.  And I struggle asking victims to go through that a second time, whether that’s 10 years later or 50 years later.” 

A public hearing has been held on the proposal, but it is not expected to be called for a vote in committee until Thursday.Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.