CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Should the Missouri Department of Corrections give awards to former inmates for good behavior?
Leaders of the Division of Probation and Parole say ‘yes’, but sheriffs in the Heartland have concerns about the new model.
Many victims of crimes are calling law enforcement agencies to ask who is funding the incentives and why convicted criminals deserve to benefit from just following the rules.
“You have model citizens who are also victims and they’re not being awarded for their good behavior,” said Cape Girardeau County Sheriff Ruth Ann Dickerson.
“The victims are not being compensated for the crimes,” the sheriff added. “If they are it takes months to years to get that compensation, yet they see this system that the former inmates are being rewarded.”
Two new tools are being used by Probation and Parole in the revamped offender management system which launched earlier this year.
Julie Kempker, Missouri’s director of the Division of Probation and Parole, said staff starts with using the Ohio Risk Assessment System.
ORAS is used multiple times to identify the level of supervision that is needed, the offender’s unique risk factors that could send them back to jail, and the right resources to prevent recidivism.
“Our ultimate goal is public safety,” Kempker said. “Our next ultimate goal is to provide tools for these people who are Missourians to be law-abiding and tax-paying citizens in this state.”
Using the individualized information from ORAS, parole officers can use recommendations outlined in the Missouri Offender Management Matrix, or MOMM, to punish former inmates for bad behavior or offer them incentives and awards for good behavior.
Kempker said the new incentive program does not use taxpayer dollars but instead relies on donations and fees paid by the offenders.
“Primarily these things are non-monetary in value and may be as simple as a pat on the back or a letter of recognition from their supervising officer," Kempker said. "It’s backed by research. It’s proven to work. If you reinforce positive behavior, the positive behavior will continue.”
Kemper said common monetary rewards include hygiene products, bus passes and coupons to fast food restaurants to help the former inmates when they return home.
“Many don’t have transportation. Many don’t make a livable wage," Kempker said. "What we can do to assist them in getting on their feet so that they can work, they can take care of their children is worth it and it’s their money that we’re spending to do it.”
The goal is to stop the former inmates from returning to prison and in turn reduce the prison population.
Sheriff Dickerson likes the mission but disagrees with the new approach.
“These are not kindergarten students. These are adults that have committed a crime and they need to face and address their criminal backgrounds," Dickerson said. “I feel like they’re burdening parole officers with being the disciplinary and also working on the social side. The department of corrections and the probation and parole should look at separating those programs."
An area where Kempker and Sheriff Dickerson agree is the need for more social programs for victims of crimes.
In 2018 the Missouri Department of Public Safety did expand and simplify applications to its Crime Victims Compensation Program.