House votes to add some statewide oversight on private probation

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —  Continuing on a trend of criminal justice reform, the Missouri House passed a bill aimed at providing some oversight to the private probation system in the Show-Me State.

In a 134-4 vote, HB 80, sponsored by Rep. Justin Hill, moves to the Senate. The bill prohibits a private probation company from requiring a person to submit for drug or alcohol testing for an unrelated offense, unless ordered by a judge. The measure also shortens the length of time a person can be sentenced to serve private probation.

“We are going to protect people that are in the private probation system from being taken advantage of,” said Hill.

The measure expands on previously passed legislation. During the 2018 session, Hill sponsored a bill that set drug and alcohol testing standards for private probation. Like that bill, the current legislation is based off an issue brought to his attention by a constituent.

The problem, Hill found, is the state had no statutes regulating private probation services.

“We created it, we privatized it and walked away. There is no guidance whatsoever,” said Hill.  

Under the legislation, a person sentenced to serve probation with a private entity providing probation services is exempt from being required to submit to drug or alcohol testing unless the person is on probation as a result of a drug or alcohol-related offense or unless ordered by a judge for good cause shown.

Supporters argue those limits will prevent arbitrary drug and alcohol testing. For example, a person whose offense was void of drugs and has never had an offense with drugs, should not be required to pay for weekly drug testing.

“Some of the private probation companies have been using drug and alcohol testing as a way to propagate profits,” said Hill. “If somebody was on probation for, let’s say a property crime — stealing or property damage, they were being drug and alcohol tested. And these tests cost about $75 a piece, and in some cases it was weekly.”

It was also brought up that in some cases felons on parole are treated better than misdemeanor offenders because felons have the opportunity to get the earned compliance credit. To that point, the bill sets the maximum term for probation for a misdemeanor violation to 18 months.

However, Hill noted that will have to be amended in the Senate to make allotments for the statute governing DUI offenses, which would conflict with the 18-month maximum.

“It is an effort to get people out from under the thumb, the thumb of government or the court system…it is causing a hardship on people,” said Hill.

With House approval, the bill now moves to the Senate.