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New Bill Could Save State Thousands in Prison Costs Through Parole Changes

Missouri's Capitol Building in 2017.
Meiying Wu / KBIA

The Missouri prison system faces issues such as overcrowding and high expenses. However, a bill introduced in the Missouri House on Thursday would provide a small solution to the problems. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Hannegan, R-St. Charles, allows offenders over the age of 65 with life sentences the opportunity for parole after serving 30 years of their sentence. The offenders may not be sex offenders or repeat felony offenders.

According to the ACLU, inmates over the age of 50 cost the state three times more than younger inmates. The state could save up to a projected $111,000 if the bill passes.

Hannegan said the case of Judy Henderson inspired his motivation for pushing this bill forward. Henderson, 68, served 35 years in prison for the murder of Harry Klein before being pardoned by Gov. Eric Greitens. Henderson’s boyfriend shot Klein. She did not play a direct role in the murder. Now, Henderson is active in volunteer work.

“I’d much rather have somebody out, doing the good work that she’s doing than just sitting behind bars,” Hannegan said.

Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, expressed concern about the victims of the crimes committed by those released under this bill; however, the number of those who qualify for parole under this bill would be minimal. Hannegan said the bill is not a “get out of jail free card,” as the offenders still need to be approved by the parole board before release. The bill would simply allow a parole hearing.

Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to life without the possibility for parole for marijuana-related offenses. He was released after serving 22 years. He said the bill motivates those eligible to work harder on their rehabilitation so they can spend time with their families.

Sarah Baker, the legislative and policy director for ACLU Missouri, said the recidivism rate for offenders above the age of 50 are essentially nonexistent.

Last session, this bill passed in the House but did not proceed past the Senate.