Missouri lawmaker wants to offer older inmates with life sentences a chance at parole

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri lawmaker doesn't want to see the state's prisons turn into nursing homes.

He believes certain inmates who are senior citizens and serving life without parole should be given a chance to leave prison.

Jeff Mizansky was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison for a marijuana-related offense. His case made national headlines before he was released in 2015 after receiving a pardon.

On Thursday, he spoke before the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice in support of legislation that would allow inmates who are 65 years of age or older and who have served 30 years of a life without parole sentence to have their case reviewed by a parole board.

"If you never give that person a chance to come out and do anything in their life, even if it is just to go home and die with their family, how are you rehabilitating them?" Mizansky asked.

Another stipulation of the bill is the crime must have occurred prior to October 1984 and include a minimum of a 50-year sentence.

The bill's sponsor said it's a way to address prior sentencing laws that eliminated the possibility for parole in those cases.

"These people are geriatric people, age 65," State Rep. Tom Hannegan (R-St. Charles) said. "They had to serve 30 years in prison, and basically there is no relief. This would give them the opportunity to go before a parole hearing."

State Rep. Lane Roberts told the bill's supporters he appreciates the efforts but believes the legislation fails to consider what a life sentence means to victims.

"And for some of these victims, the only justice they will ever receive is the insurance and knowledge this person is going to get every pound of justice coming to them," Roberts said.

The bill, if approved, would require anyone seeking parole to meet certain requirements, including evident they have a plan to adjust to life outside prison.

Hannegan said his bill includes language that would prohibit a sex offender or someone with prior violent felonies to be eligible for parole.

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