Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Lawmaker Wants Certain Geriatric Offenders out of Prison

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Lawmaker Wants Certain Geriatric Offenders out of Prison

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * Republican state Rep. Mike Lair has a rare view of prison. He lives a block and a half from the Chillicothe Correctional Center, one of two lockups of its kind for women in Missouri, and has met a few older offenders he thinks shouldn't be in there.

"You are under more danger from me than you are of them," Lair said.

That is why once again he's sponsoring a bill that would give geriatric prisoners a shot at early release after they've served at least 25 years behind bars. To qualify, certain offenders serving life without parole must be over 65, with no prior felony convictions for violent crime.

It's not an amnesty bill. Offenders who meet the requirements would have the opportunity to have their cases reviewed by the Board of Probation and Parole. The legislation is estimated to affect no more than a few dozen state prisoners out of a community of 32,000.

That's part of the point, said Lair, a retired high school history teacher.

"It's one of those situations where state government is so big that a lot of times it loses the individual touch," he said. "I am sure a lot of these folks wouldn't be there if people knew them."

Different versions of the legislation have previously passed in the House but not the Senate. A public hearing for House Bill 344 will be held at 8 a.m. Wednesday by the House Corrections Committee.

Lawyer John Ammann, a supervisor at the St. Louis University legal clinic, has lobbied for the bill.

"The Republicans have been blocking it," he said. "They believe a sentence is a sentence."

He added: "What's the point of incarcerating an 85-year-old woman who has Alzheimer's who doesn't even know who she is? That's where we are headed."

Though Missouri Department of Corrections director George Lombardi wouldn't comment about the bill, he recently explained to the same committee that the number of people serving life without parole continued to rise. …

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