Whistleblower says Missouri’s probation and parole method putting innocent lives at risk

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 3:23 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - There are new concerns about how probation and parole is, or is not working in Missouri.

KY3 has been investigating a new state system for several months, one six local sheriffs say gives more rewards than punishments.

“It’s very dangerous for the public for a lot of these people to be out,” said Dallas County Sheriff Scott Rice.

He is one of many sheriffs who say they are picking up the same criminals time and time again, and that it has now become little more than a catch and release program.

The new way of doing business for Probation and Parole officers is called the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Part of the inner workings of it is the Missouri Offender Management Matrix. It’s part of what is used to figure out what drives a person toward criminal behavior, and the likelihood they will do it again. As part of the program, officers are asked to give incentives, like gift cards, if criminals do what they are supposed to do like pass a drug test.

But, for the first time, we are hearing from an actual state employee who says this new system is putting innocent lives at risk.

“I stay awake at night worried that what we’re doing is emboldening them because they know. Especially parolees, it took them about three weeks to figure out that we weren’t sending them back [to prison], and they talk about it,” said Jamie Thayer. Thayer says enough is enough. She’s a current Probation and Parole employee with rave reviews from her bosses at the Department of Corrections. In one recent employee review, her bosses told her this job is something “she was born to do.”

But she’s willing to risk her career to speak with us. She says she wants to ‘blow the whistle’ on a system that she says needs major improvement.

“I get that we are broke. I get that it is expensive to put people in prison,” she said. But, she is counting the cost. At least two recent cases KY3 has highlighted left three people dead, at the hands of offenders who local authorities should have been locked up still.

Thayer has been at it for six years, but a new program adopted in June of 2019 is what could very well send her into a new line of work.

“It’s unbelievable what we’re doing,” she said.

She says the people who know the parolees best – the probation officers – have their hands tied by bureaucracy and formulas.

“There is no officer discretion, there are these grids, you do this because of this, and the agency is ignoring the most valuable tool they have and it is the officers!” she said.

Thayer believes the Department of Corrections is undervaluing the officers' knowledge of the offender, their personal interactions with offenders, and their discernment.

"We are very discouraged from writing revocations, and it is an uphill battle to send people to prison and they know it. And it emboldens them to do more and more,” Thayer said.

Thayer says some officers have even asked for probation to be revoked for some violators – only to be turned down by DOC supervisors before a judge even hears the case.

“We have sex offenders that are getting released three or four times that have absconded. They have disappeared, we don’t know where they are living. They are not reporting, and like the third time they get picked up, we are still having to recommend continuance. They show up and we’ll put you on electronic monitoring, and then they don’t, and we’re doing this again.”

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott says the new tool often misses the mark and is too soft even on hardened criminals.

“People who are on probation and parole, leaving a probation and parole office high on methamphetamine-- tested positive for it and was allowed to leave,” the sheriff exclaimed.

According to the state’s Web-site, they say the new program’s “Sanctions and incentives are proven to work. Using reinforcements in response to positive behavior is a more effective motivator than only using sanctions in response to poor behavior. Our sanctions range from a verbal reprimand to jail or prison. Incentives range from verbal encouragement to small tokens for achievement.”

However, Thayer says the sanctions are no longer steep enough. And she says she can no longer sit idly by watching what she calls a total disregard for community safety.

“My mom has DOC number, she’s dead. My sister is on probation in Branson. I used to believe in what we did. I used to believe we were trying to do our best to make the community safe, and now, people in Jeff City, all they care about is not getting sued and that we cannot afford anything. And it’s not about safety.”

The DOC would not agree to an interview with us on camera – even remotely to address these employee’s concerns.

After weeks of asking, a spokeswoman sent us an email with this response:

As you know, the MOMM [Missouri Offender Management Matrix] is just one of many, many tools used in case management within probation and parole and just one of many, many factors affecting the lives of people on probation or parole in Missouri, so it would be inaccurate, erroneous and irresponsible to try to attribute any former offender’s success or failure — or any staff member’s employment status — to that one tool. Additionally, as you know, we are in the midst of a pandemic, which has affected literally every component of the criminal justice system, including court hearings, county jail operations and countless aspects of the day-to-day lives of clients, such as employment options, housing, child care and access to treatment and other services. We’re incredibly proud of the fantastic job our Division of Probation and Parole staff have done in adapting to recent and current conditions and obstacles, and we applaud their flexibility in continuing to provide high-quality supervision while keeping their clients, themselves and their communities as safe as possible.

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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