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House perfects sweeping criminal justice reform bill

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House perfected a sweeping criminal justice reform bill Wednesday afternoon with a variety of provisions, from modifying sentencing guidelines to cracking down on civil asset forfeiture.

The massive omnibus bill, championed by Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, largely mirrors the federal First Step Act, signed by President Donald Trump late last year, as well as includes more Missouri-centric measures. Some of the reforms included in HCB 2 are:

  • Free feminine hygiene products for incarcerated women
  • Sentencing reforms for mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders
  • Geriatric parole for people who are at least 65 years old and have served at least 30 years of his or her sentence
  • Eliminating so-called debtors’ prison for board bills
  • Allowing felons to work in grocery and convenience stores
  • Updates to racial profiling statutes
  • Civil asset forfeiture reform

“It’s a comprehensive criminal justice reform package. It’s going to enhance public safety and save taxpayers’ money and move us in a direction where we’re not building more prisons, but we are allowing people to have second chances,” Dogan told The Missouri Times in an interview following the bill’s perfection.

State Rep. Shamed Dogan

Dogan estimated the omnibus package could save the state millions of dollars per year with the modified minimum prison term provisions — a portion of the legislation he credited to House Budget Chair Cody Smith. He also noted he’s worked with the Special Committee on Criminal Justice, which he chairs, throughout the year to put the package together.

“We haven’t always agreed on every issue, but we’ve agreed on the general approach that we need to be smart on crime and not just lock everyone up and throw away the key to be supposedly tough on crime,” Dogan said. “I think there’s a pretty good consensus we need to change the approach we have to criminal justice reform.”

One provision that didn’t make it into the bill was a ban on shackling pregnant women who are in the third trimester in local prisons.

“We’re calling it the Missouri First Step Act for a reason. This isn’t everything I would like to have for criminal justice reform, but I think this is something that will have bipartisan support,” Dogan said, adding he’s worked with Gov. Mike Parson’s office and the Department of Corrections on multiple provisions included in the bill.

The bill is expected to be third-read in the House next week before it moves onto the Senate. Dogan said he’s hopeful for its success in the other chamber of the General Assembly, even though several components of the package do not have Senate counterparts.

“I just hope that there’s appetite on both sides of the Capitol for this because, if not, we’re going to end up where the governor told us he doesn’t want to be, which is building more prisons,” he said.

Matthew Charles, President Trump’s State of the Union guest, advocates for criminal justice reform in Missouri

Dogan and other criminal justice reform advocates touted the sweeping bill earlier this year during an event with Matthew Charles, who gained national attention after television personality Kim Kardashian West advocated on his behalf and Trump acknowledged him during his State of the Union address.

Charles was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine and illegally possessing a gun. He was only 30-years-old at the time. In prison, Charles became a Christian, didn’t incur any infractions on his record, and took college courses, eventually becoming a law clerk. After serving 21 years of his sentence, Charles was mistakenly released. And in May 2018 — despite Charles’ efforts to establish a life in his community — he was ordered back to prison.

With the passage of the federal First Step Act, Charles was released from prison on Jan. 3, becoming one of the first people to benefit from the law, according to the White House.

Charles previously told The Missouri Times he was “honored” to be given the opportunity to travel the country — including to Missouri — to advocate for criminal justice reform. He said he was “excited” to work with Missouri lawmakers who have acknowledged “there is an epidemic of mass incarceration and over-sentencing [of] people.”

HCB 2 was perfected by a voice vote Wednesday afternoon.