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Controversy over releasing all non-violent offenders from jail

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GREENE COUNTY, Mo. — Both state prosecutors and the Greene County Sheriff don’t agree with the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office asking the Missouri Supreme Court to release all non-violent offenders from jails across Missouri.

Director of Missouri State Public Defender, Mary Fox, is worried that the offenders will contract COVID-19 and only offenders serving a jail sentence less than one year and haven’t gone to trial would be eligible to be released.

“That’s not a reason that you can keep somebody in jail, maybe somewhere down the road they will do something bad,” Fox said. “That is not an acceptable reason to keep someone in jail, where they’re facing this danger.”

The president of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorney, Tim Lohmar, disagrees.

“I’ve got an inmate directly across the street that has three pending domestic violence-related offenses, all of the same victim, each time he’s been let out of jail, he reoffended in the same way against the same victim,” Lohmar said. “You would potentially create a very dangerous situation for victims all across the state.”

Lohmar says local officials elected by their constituents should be the ones making those decisions, not the Missouri Supreme Court.

Fox argues that it’s dangerous for offenders to be staying in jail and sitting in what’s been called an ‘incubator of the virus.’

But Lohmar says most jails across the state are already making efforts to secure their facilities.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott says it’s too dangerous to release offenders, even non-violent ones, out in the community.

“It was ridiculous to be quite honest,” Arnott said. “Making a blanket statement. But the issue is, we have to evaluate it, just like the supreme court said, a case-by-case basis.”

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