Shellabarger: What does accountability look like?

By Jacob Shellabarger, Audrain County prosecuting attorney
Posted 9/10/21

Welcome to this month’s “Opening Statement,” an update for our community about the criminal justice system and how the Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office works for …

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Shellabarger: What does accountability look like?

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Welcome to this month’s “Opening Statement,” an update for our community about the criminal justice system and how the Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office works for justice for all citizens. In this installment, we’re taking a look at how we use the criminal justice system to bring accountability for those who break our laws, what that accountability can mean, and how victims’ voices matter to our office and to the court during this process.

Under Missouri law, there are punishments for particular crimes. In misdemeanors, this involves jail time, or a fine…and in felony cases, this punishment may include prison time, jail time, or a fine. One way the court can ensure certain conditions are followed is to place defendants on probation. The court, then, suspends or holds off on executing a sentence, pending a period of time where the court supervises the defendant’s actions, behaviors and compliance. Often, this is done to ensure that restitution is paid – if the defendants are in the community and working, these terms of probation encourage the defendant to pay all outstanding restitution to avoid additional consequences.

Probation conditions can be varied, but often include community service completion, requirements to complete classes, maintain employment, not have drugs or alcohol and be subject to random testing, and shock detention. Shock detention is a short jail sentence which is assigned by the court to “shock” the defendant and ensure continued compliance and serve as punishment, with the larger sentence held off – suspended – pending the completion of conditions. Often, the court puts time limits on those conditions of probation, for example: “Defendant must complete 100 hours of community service through the Northeast Community Service Agency and report completion to the Court and the probation officer by Dec. 31, 2021.”

In Audrain County, there are two types of probation: supervised by the state probation and parole office, and those which are supervised by the court. Felony cases may have up to five years’ probation assigned, and misdemeanor cases may have two years’ probation assigned, with the option in each case for a one-year extension should probation conditions be violated.

Probation and Parole supervised probation is available for felony offenses, and for certain misdemeanor offenses such as assault, domestic assault, harassment, stalking and violation of an order of protection. In these cases, the State Board of Probation and Parole assigns a supervising probation officer for each of the counts, and then works with the defendant on ensuring they are compliant with the court’s orders: making sure defendants complete the programs, classes, pay restitution or complete the shock detention, as well as comply with any other restrictions placed on their probation, such as “no contact with victims” and “no entry onto the victim’s premises,” and other examples may include “defendant is not to possess or consume intoxicating liquor or controlled substances without a doctor’s prescription.”

Defendants must comply with their conditions of probation, or the court may order the defendant to serve additional jail time, up to 30 days shock detention for misdemeanor cases and 120 days shock detention in the county jail for felony cases. There are also numerous special programs in the Missouri Department of Corrections available – inpatient drug treatment, long-term intensive drug treatment, life skills and crime prevention, sex offender evaluation and assessment, and other specialty programs. These 120-day programs are often used for more serious probation violations, such as new laws violations or repeated violations of probation conditions, or a failure to comply with treatment taking place in the community.

Our office considers victim input at each step in a case – from the initial review and filing of the case to disposition, including conditions of probation. Probation conditions ensure defendants comply with the court’s orders, and can protect victims and their families, as well as ensure restitution makes these victims more whole in a shorter period of time. Conditions for payment of restitution ensure the victims are made whole on a regular basis, with payments scheduled for, and ordered to be received, on a schedule with a scheduled amount.

These probation conditions keep our community safe, as probation officers, my office, and the criminal justice system work together to build pro-social connections and heal our community. 

Community service performed by probationers cleans our parks, aids local non-profits, and encourages defendants to work toward a common goal in making our community a better place. These restorative probation conditions rebuild the relationship between defendants and the community, and hold them accountable for breaking our society’s laws – the promises we all make each other to ensure society works for all.

Next month, where I will discuss alternative sentencing through court programs and special dockets. These intensive supervision programs provide accountability for criminals through a focus on protecting victims’ rights, ensuring compliance with the law, and building resilience and keeping our community safe.

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