Incarcerated senior citizens could receive parole hearing under proposed legislation

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri State Rep. Tom Hannegan (R-St. Charles) believes previous sentencing lows have resulted in life sentences without parole for some defendants who deserve a chance for a parole hearing.

The House Special Committee on Criminal Justice held a public hearing on his HB 2034 Thursday.

The proposed legislation would grant a parole hearing to inmates who are at least 65-years-old and have served at least 30 years of a life without parole sentence for a crime that was committed before October 1984.

The bill states in order to qualify for a parole hearing, the inmate’s sentence must have been for a minimum of 50 years. The threshold for life sentences without parole in Missouri was lowered from 50 to 30 years in the 1980s.

Supporters of the bill say Missouri should not become a nursing home for elderly inmates. They also believe judges and juries may not have been aware of the full set of circumstances in some cases when a life without parole sentence was rendered.

“By allowing these people to re-open their file and go before the parole board, they can address their issues and reevaluate the case,” said Hannegan. “The only option for them now is basically if the governor would grant a clemency or a pardon.”

One of the persons testifying in support of the bill received a pardon in 2015 from then Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Jeff Mizanskey had been sentenced to life without parole in 1996 for a marijuana-related offense.

“If you never give that person a chance to come out and do anything in their life, even if it is just to go home and die with their family, how are you rehabilitating them?” he said.

Committee member State Rep. Lane Wood (R-Joplin) said he appreciated the passion from supporters but has concerns about how crime victims would view the proposed legislation.

“For some of these victims, the only justice they will ever receive is the insurance and knowledge this person is going to get every pound of justice coming to them,” he said.

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