Missouri public defenders ask Supreme Court to release certain inmates, sheriffs and prosecutors respond

Published: Mar. 27, 2020 at 5:41 PM CDT
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Certain inmates in Missouri jails would soon be free under a request from public defenders. Many sheriffs and prosecutors across the state don't want to see that happen without their approval.

The Missouri State Public Defender's Office argues releasing particular prisoners would not pose a risk to the community, but instead reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading through jails.

People serving time for misdemeanors, city ordinance or probation violations, waiting on trials for non-violent crimes, or those at high-risk for getting sick would all be free.

For the Missouri State Public Defender's Office's full proposal, click


Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole says, that could pose a public safety risk. He said he believes local police, attorneys and judges who work directly with those inmates should make the decision.

"If we just do a broad sweeping release of all these people without local consideration and evaluating these cases case by case, we place our citizens and communities at risk," Cole said.

The Missouri State Public Defender's Office wrote in its proposal, the release of so many inmates action is necessary to protect the health and safety of inmates, corrections workers, nurses, and all those involved in Missouri’s justice system.

The Missouri Sheriff's Association responded to the proposal in a letter. Like Cole, the association believes each inmate should be considered individually, based on factors like the nature of the offense, the

criminal history of the offender, the safety of the victim, etc.

For more on the Missouri Sheriff's Association's response, click


Sheriff Cole said this situation feels similar to last summer's Supreme Court ruling that set new bond rules. That required county judges to first consider non-cash bail. Sheriff Cole said that ruling came down without the input from local authorities, and he doesn't want to see that happen again.

"Once again, asking for a broad sweeping release of a bunch of people. Not only people charged with felonies, but people that are charged with probation and parole violations, that have already been to prison, that have already been convicted," he said.

The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys also spoke out against the proposal, writing the order is "unwarranted and would undermine the cause of individual justice," and would strip local judges from making decisions about cases.

For that full response, click click

Cole said, if the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of the Missouri State Public Defender's proposal, it would be an "overreaching arm of the government."

"You can't sit in a chair on top of the throne and look down and know what is best for every community in this state," Cole said.

Cole said the letter from the public defender's office made it seem like sheriffs aren't doing their jobs to protect jail inmates.

"I can tell you right now, we have put great measures in place to make sure that the inmates that are incarcerated in our jail are receiving the best medical care, the best medical treatment and the best hygiene that we can possibly give them," he said.

He says he's already worked with Christian County judges and prosecutors to let some inmates go.

The proposal for releasing inmate was sent to the Supreme Court Thursday.

KY3 News reached out to the local public defender's office, but was deferred to the director. The director did not return a request for comment by the time of this report.

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