News 4 investigates growing problem with local work-release program

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by Craig Cheatham / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 7:14 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 28 at 8:20 PM

 (KMOV) – Criminals are abusing their second chance after getting probation or parole by walking away from a community release center near downtown St. Louis.

One of them, a convicted sex offender, was charged with an attempted rape just last week.

News 4’s Craig Cheatham dug into the growing problem and why Missouri’s Department of Corrections has kept insisting no one has escaped.

Michael Smith, a convicted armed robber, is out of prison, now living at the St. Louis Community Release Center. News 4 talked with him as he was leaving for an appointment.

There’s always more attention to detail after a potentially dangerous offender walks away from the center and fails to return.

Last week, convicted sex offender Shawn Akery left the center and was later charged with trying to rape a woman.

Last summer, convicted child molester Ronnell Edwards walked away from the same center, and showed up at the school where his victim went to school.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Missouri Department of Corrections revealed that there are 492 offenders living at the St. Louis Community Release Center; 121 of them are sex offenders or committed other violent crimes.  Although the DOC insists no one has escaped, the department admits 72 absconded, which means they failed to return when they were supposed to.

For inmates like Michael Smith, it’s another setback, trying to make it on the outside while being connected to other offenders who keep abusing the privilege that comes with living here.

The two sex offenders who walked away from the center and are now charged with new crimes are back behind bars awaiting trial.

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