Missouri sheriffs accuse Dept. of Corrections of catch and release; state says it’s following the law

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CALLAWAY COUNTY, Mo. - Missouri sheriffs say our prisons are risking your safety by turning away criminals. The Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism recently wrote an open letter to citizens. He mentioned a recent case involving John Garrett, who was picked up on a parole violation. Instead of returning to prison, the sheriff said the Missouri Department of Corrections released him two days later and deputies say they soon arrested him again for robbery.

Sheriff Chism said it's happening across Missouri.

"Don't put out a warrant for someone's arrest if you don't really want them brought back to your facility,” he said. “We knew there were going to be changes. We didn't know it would be this drastic where they were literally refusing to take offenders back who they issued a warrant for.”

The Missouri Department of Corrections responded: “There definitely is no 'catch-and-release' system...The Probation and Parole processes in the State of Missouri are carried out as they always have been, in accordance with the Constitution and State Law.”

A DOC spokesperson said that the parole board considers things case-by-case what to do with someone like Garrett. His violation was for a "failure to report."

“If they're not reporting and they're not going to be sanctioned for not reporting, then why in the world are they on parole?" Chism said.

“We have a laundry list of those types of individuals,” said Sheriff David Parrish, president of the Missouri Sheriff's Association.

Parrish said there's another problem: offenders serving just a fraction of their sentences. He mentioned the case of Trevin James Wilmes. Parrish said he served only three years of a four-year prison sentence, adding, “They just arrested him for breaking into an elderly couple's home, threatening them with a knife, and carrying an ax. (The victims) were 87 and 85 years of age.”

The DOC also denies shorter sentences.

“The average percentage of an original sentence served in Missouri was 53 percent for the first half of (the last) fiscal year, a 3 percent increase from five years ago," a spokesperson said.

Sheriff Chism questioned the state's responses, saying, “Just let our community members really know what is going on behind the scenes."

Sheriff's Chism and Parrish say they're determined to find out what the state is not revealing about prisoner releases.

“The shots are called by the administrative office as to what their expectations are," Chism said. "These probation parole officers with their boots on the ground in 114 counties - they're only doing their job. We've heard from them as well, of course, they have to hide behind the covers and not say anything publicly because their job would be in jeopardy.”

Read Sheriff’s Chism’s open letter here, followed by the full response from the Missouri D.O.C.

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"The average percentage of an original sentence served in Missouri was 53% for the first half of FY 2020 (July-December). This number has increased in the past five years; it was 50% in FY 2015. In proportion to the original sentence, offenders are not spending less time in prison; they’re spending more time in prison.

The Missouri Department of Corrections does not determine the length of a convicted offender’s sentence. Sentencing is determined by the courts. Parole releases are determined by the Missouri Board of Parole. The courts and the board follow state law in making these decisions. Missouri Department of Corrections policies do not determine court or board decisions.

It should be noted that offenders often receive credit for time served if they have been held in a county jail before being transferred to a Missouri Department of Corrections facility, so the amount of time spent in a state prison is not necessarily equal to the amount of time incarcerated.

There definitely is no “catch-and-release” system in the Missouri Department of Corrections. The probation and parole processes in the state of Missouri are carried out as they always have been, in accordance with the constitution and state law.

The purpose of probation and parole is to help people placed on supervision by the court or board correct their behavior and become law-abiding citizens. Probationers are under the jurisdiction of the courts. Parolees — those who have been released from prison — are under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Board of Parole. The Division of Probation and Parole supervises these Missourians for the courts and the board. Decisions regarding violations of special conditions and revocations to prison are made by the courts and the Missouri Board of Parole.

It is expected that law enforcement will make an arrest any time a new crime occurs, regardless of whether the offender is under community supervision at the time that the crime is committed.

This process has not changed.

It is impossible to predict human behavior. To help us better anticipate problems and assess offenders’ risks and criminogenic needs, in the past year, the state has adopted and implemented an evidence-based validated risk and needs assessment tool, the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS), which helps

anticipate risks and make informed decisions about offender management. The adoption of this new tool is one of many products of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative recommendations unanimously approved by a task force that included sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, crime victims, leaders from the departments of public safety and mental health, and other stakeholders from all areas of the criminal justice system in Missouri.

Some issues that have been raised recently pertain to technical violations of probation or parole — not new crimes. A technical violation is a violation of the conditions of probation set by the courts or the conditions of parole set by the parole board. Examples might include missing appointments, failing to maintain employment or moving to a new address without notifying the proper authorities. Technical violations are not criminal offenses that endanger public safety. When someone commits a technical violation of parole, the violator is re-engaged and evaluated, using validated risk and needs assessment tools, to determine whether that citizen should be returned to prison. These decisions are made by the parole board on a case-by-case basis. Just as law enforcement affords citizens due process when they’re arrested for a crime, the Parole Board is affords citizens due process when they’re out of compliance with their terms of supervision.

We appreciate our partners in law enforcement and are grateful for their service to the citizens of Missouri in carrying out our shared goal protecting public safety."

Karen Pojmann

DOC Spokesperson

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