Proposed MO bill would cut convicted felons' sentences in half

Updated: Mar. 24, 2015 at 4:57 PM CDT
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STODDARD COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - A proposed bill in Missouri would cut down the amount of time convicted felons would have to serve behind bars. It doesn't come without limits, but some say they don't like it.

While the bill's sponsor said it would save money and space, one Heartland prosecutor said it's not worth it. Many citizens agree.

"Somebody does a bad crime, I think they should pay the time," Cape Girardeau Resident Tyler Welker said.

The idea of unlocking the door on a convicted felon's cell early gets mixed opinions.

"I think it's wrong. If they've been sentenced to 20 years and they really did do it, I think they should serve their time," Cape Girardeau Resident Bonnie Kearns said.

"If I had a family member that was harmed by these people, you know, are they going to come back and get them again?" Welker said.

The bill's sponsor, Keith English, said it would solve bigger issues. The cost to keep someone behind bars for long sentences really adds up. That's why the English said cutting that time would save the state lots of money and help prevent over-crowding.

Stoddard County Prosecutor Russell Oliver said the savings just aren't worth it.

"Over crowding is a real concern but, remember, what are the crimes that are on the list? We are talking about very heinous crimes that affect people's lives severely," Oliver said.

Oliver said, right now, prosecutors have discretion over how severely to charge someone. So, making the sentence potentially less only makes their job tougher.

"Every robbery first is also a robbery second so you have the option of charging with robbery second if you feel that's appropriate," Oliver said.

The bill would allow felony offenders to get out after serving half their sentence. Under current law, they must serve at least 85 percent before being eligible for parole. Some say in some cases, it could be a good thing.

"People make mistakes every day and they get in the heat of the moment and make mistakes that you know can potentially cost them you know 15 years of their life. I could see that could be a tool if they get reformed," Welker said.

The bill applies to first time convictions of dangerous crimes including assault, burglary, and rape. However, it excludes more serious crimes like first degree murder.

Oliver said each case is different and the bill is too broad.

"That's what this bill does though, it says every first time offender should only serve 50 percent. Well, that may not be the case for every first time offender that chooses to take a gun and put it in someone's face and take their money," Oliver said.

Oliver said, first time or not, those convicted should serve their full sentence.

"Violent crimes should be our priorities that if you're going to commit violent crimes against people you should face stiff mandatory jail sentences," Oliver said.

English said the bill goes to committee next week, however he said the bill will still undergo lots of changes if and when it's put into law.

There is another similar bill going through the legislature right now too that deals with the same issue. That bill is sponsored by Representative Don Phillips.

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