JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Non-violent, misdemeanor offenders held to a stricter standard than those with felony convictions? Well, if Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, has any say about it, it will not be the case any longer.
“This bill is about keeping or preventing bad things from happening to our citizens,” Hill told the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee. “House Bill 1344 essential puts private probation drug and alcohol testing at the same level as the state felony probation testing.”
Under the current system, companies that provide private probation services set their own standard when it comes to drug and alcohol testing.
According the John DeFriese — whose son’s probation was handled by a private company — some private probation companies set their testing detection standards much lower than the state uses.
The Missouri Department of Corrections uses Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s guidelines for testing. To test positive for alcohol, ETG, there must be more than 1,000 nanograms per milliliter of blood and for marijuana, THC, there must be more than 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Test results at or below the cut off are considered negative.
“Some companies test Alcohol, ETG, at 100 nanograms per milliliter,” DeFriese said. “That means if you used hair gel this morning you’d probably end up with a detect.”
The standard SAMHSA sets is meant to eliminate incidental exposure, while some companies are reporting any detect as a violation to the courts, according the DeFriese.
The bill Hill introduced — for the third time — would require that entities providing private probation services use the same concentration standards for drug and alcohol testing that the Department of Corrections uses. It would also prevent private probation services from requiring parolees to travel more than 50 miles.
“Thousands of our clients are either on felony probation referral or misdemeanor private probation,” said Michael Barrett, who oversees 82,000 cases a year as director of the Missouri State Public Defenders System. “Everyday I see the contrast between the two of them.”
Probation handled by the Department of Corrections apply standards of public safety. They revoke someone’s probation only when that person poses a public safety risk.
“The contrast with private probation is that it’s not public safety driven, it is profit driven,” Barrett said. “And when the coins are no longer falling out of my clients pocket that’s when they get jailed. It’s not related to public safety at all.
“It’s amazing to me, how when the money runs dry they lose their liberty.”
Sarah Baker from the American Civil Liberties Union went so far as to it a “modern day debtors prison.”
Several witnesses spoke in support of this legislation, including Eastern Missouri Altenative Setencing Services, a company that provides private probation. The representative from EMASS didn’t “want to disparage other companies” but admitted some were “less than reputable.”
DeFriese pointed out that this bill has no fiscal impact to the state. Barrett took that one step further and said it would save money.
“There is cost saving to this legislation because if we apply the same standard people will not needlessly go to local jail because they failed a nonsense drug test and the state tax payers will not have to pick up that financial burden,” Barrett said. “So I would argue there is a substantial cost savings to this.”
The committee brought up the issue of how the companies will be held accountable and if there would be additional punishment.
“It’s been a long road, it’s been three years,” Hill responded. “I love would just to get this done for our folks.”
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.