JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some Missouri inmates sentenced to life without parole who've served at least 25 years in prison could get a shot at a parole hearing under a criminal justice reform bill being considered by state lawmakers.
A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Neely would create three standards for offenders to meet before a parole board would hear their case, such as the rule to serve a minimum 25 years of their sentence. The proposed legislation would also require inmates to accept accountability for their crime and make reasonable efforts toward rehabilitation, the Columbia Missourian reported.
Inmates who've maintained innocence since conviction, in addition to meeting other criteria, could also be considered for parole under the bill. But offenders whose crimes meet certain aggravating factors, such as prior violent offenses, wouldn't be eligible.
Neely's bill joins a handful of others moving through the Missouri General Assembly this year that are aimed are reforming the state's criminal justice system and reducing the prison population.
Missouri has the eighth largest prison population in the country, according to the state's Department of Corrections.
Many lawmakers lauded Neely's bill, but some voiced concerns about how it may re-traumatize victims and their families.
"I acknowledge the humanitarian mentality of (this bill)," Republican Rep. Lane Roberts said. "But first and foremost, my concern will always be for the victims. I want to make darn sure we don't do repeated damage to them in an effort to be kind to someone else who made a mistake."
Some lawmakers expressed worry over allowing certain offenses to be eligible for parole, such as the rape of children.
"I'm concerned that this will turn into relief for violent offenders, such as those convicted of premeditated murder," Democratic Rep. Wiley Price said.
Neely acknowledged the arguments of his bill's opponents but said he trusts "the eyes and ears of the parole board."