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Webster County Prosecuting Attorney on His Role


Keeping a county safe is a huge, important job: Folks seek out small Midwestern towns, like the ones in Webster County, specifically for their quaint, homelike atmosphere. So, when things go awry, it is nice to know there is a system in place, whose entire job is to bring justice where it is due.

Hence the function of our local prosecuting attorney, who gets elected every 4 years. Each county in Missouri has a prosecuting attorney, as well as the city of St. Louis, with the grand tally reaching 115 of these elected officials in our state. The prosecuting attorney is the leader of each county’s (or city, in St. Louis’ case) criminal justice system.

These men and women are fluent in all legal matters. They decide which issues need to be brought to court- who to charge and prosecute. Webster County’s prosecuting attorney is Ben Berkstresser, who was voted into office in 2014. Excluding traffic tickets, he brings 900 to 1,200 misdemeanor and felony cases to court each year.

Although he did not meet a lawyer until he was in high school, Berkstresser knew he wanted to be an attorney, even as a child. He grew up on a dairy farm in southern Missouri, and he and his two sisters were the first in his family to earn Bachelor's degrees. He says, “I had known I was going to be an attorney since I was very young. Early on when people would ask me why, my response was 'to help people'.”

With his childhood dream of being a lawyer fulfilled, Berkstresser later set out to help the people of Webster County by pursuing the elected position of Prosecuting Attorney, and he is passionate about his job.

“I truly feel like there is no other position as an attorney where you get to help and directly serve people. It is the hardest job I have ever had, because of all that I have to know about the crimes committed in our county, and seeking justice for those cases, but it is easily the best job I have ever had. The job satisfaction in helping people and helping keep your county safe, likely has no equal in this profession, ...in my humble opinion,” Berkstresser added.

When possible, the court system seeks to decrease the number of offenders serving jail time, and instead, send them to a rehabilitation program. This helps prevent overcrowded jails and limit incarceration rates. The goal of these types of programs is also to reduce recidivism, as Berkstresser explains, “The correctional system has very little success in reformation, and without truth in sentencing, really does very little to help people who have been convicted or to protect the public. So engaging, discovery, and promoting treatment and recovery, through a variety of options, is something that I often consider.”

Webster County’s Drug court has these initiatives as their noble goal, and it is a program Berkstresser is proud of.

However, the overall position of the state’s justice department is concerning, according to Berkstresser. He worries about Missouri’s legal reforms several years back. They began reducing funding to, and closing, some prisons, and changing parole policies. Berkstresser informs, “This sounds good and looks good on political ads. However, functionally, it is a disaster to our community.”

He relates to a story of one repeat felony offender, who was sentenced to 9 years for burglary. However, the offender ended up serving just over 100 days in the Missouri Department of Corrections, instead of his full term.

“A few months later he was charged with new felonies. This defendant had countless opportunities for treatment, and to remain on probation within the community. He was given access to resources, and multiple different opportunities to avoid his sentence being executed. When he failed, he served 107 days of a 9-year sentence, and after being paroled, he committed new felonies.”

It’s a story that would anger many, but such are the realities of failing to help our citizens understand that their actions do, indeed, have consequences. Berkstresser also describes some of our prisons’ treatment programs as obsolete and ineffective, and the parole policies as ranging from dysfunctional, to just plain deceptive.

“The current incarceration system is a joke for several categories of felonies, but almost all are rooted in the abuse of controlled substances. It seems the popular opinion is to categorize crimes related to controlled substances as non-violent and not a threat to the community. This opinion may sound nice, but it makes our communities dangerous, citizens unprotected, and is a complete absence of justice.”

One way Webster County works to prevent such catastrophes is by attempting to curtail criminal activity before it ever takes root.

“We are very fortunate to have active, engaged, trained, and responsive law enforcement in each city, along the Webster County Sheriff's Office. Access and availability of law enforcement supports the avoidance of criminal behavior.”

Fifth graders in Webster County public schools also go through an educational program that the Sheriff’s office teaches. It is about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. Most schools also have a school resource officer, who protects the children as well as serves as a source of information for students. All have “had an impact in preventing criminal activity,” Berkstresser assures.

Sentencing laws will be considered again this year by our lawmakers in Jefferson City, and legislators will be listening to their constituents regarding the matter. Progress is more likely to be successful if the public makes their wishes known.

Visiting https://house.mo.gov/LegislationSP.aspx will allow you to see all bills relevant to the Department of Corrections that the legislature discussed in the last session. Searching for corrections, and selecting the 2022 Regular Session will bring up the list, and our Representatives’ and Senators’ contact information is just a few clicks away from there.

Webster County is fortunate to have bright, caring individuals in place, who take care of defending our freedom and maintaining justice in our towns. Berkstresser summarizes just what makes our whole justice department, and being our prosecuting attorney, so crucial and meaningful. “There has to be accountability and justice under the law, as our society and the enjoyment of freedom depends on it.”


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