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Open letter to lawmakers: Be bold for Missourians with continued push for criminal justice reform this session

   

Dear Members of the 100th General Assembly,

On behalf of our organizations and the thousands of Missourians we represent, we urge you to take additional bold steps this year toward reforming our criminal justice system to ensure a better approach towards reducing crime, keeping communities safe and affording individuals with criminal records a chance to become productive, law-abiding citizens. 

Missouri is heading in a new direction, one that stresses smart-on-crime criminal justice practices rather than the so-called “tough-on-crime” policies implemented over the last several decades that have proven ineffective. To say the criminal justice policies of the past have failed our communities would be an understatement. Across the board, from mandatory minimums – which have caused disproportionately long sentences – to barriers in the system that facilitate higher recidivism rates, it’s time to find a new way forward. 

Too often our citizens are punished with sentences that outweigh their crimes, many of which are lower-level, non-violent offenses. Gov. Parson directly addressed this in October urging all to reconsider the ways in which we use minor violations of probation and parole to throw away the key and place too many individuals back in prison. We second his call. 

Missouri must stop piling on an already bloated and expensive prison system that  takes a toll on families and fails to produce the best results from our Missouri tax dollars.  

Missouri has the seventh-highest incarceration rate in the country with a prison system that costs our taxpayers an estimated $300 million a year, according to 2016 data. 

Long sentences don’t stop the vicious cycle of incarceration-release-repeat. The latest data show 47.4 percent of incarcerated individuals will return to prison within five years of release. We must look both at our prison system and at our local jails, where total populations have increased by 295 percent since 1970 and where, in some counties, the percent of individuals held prior to any trial or conviction has increased 88 percent since 2000. 

These policies have done enough harm in Missouri. But, thanks to efforts from the Missouri General Assembly in 2019, criminal justice reform is now part of the conversation in our state. We must keep it that way.

Our organizations are encouraged that lawmakers are dedicated to creating a justice system that gives flexibility to judges in sentencing, deters crime, keeps streets safe, and provides formerly-incarcerated individuals a chance to succeed when they return to their communities. 

We urge you to continue down this path to reach the goals that we share: a reduced crime rate, safer communities, second chances for those who have met the conditions for release, and fewer tax dollars obligated to prisons. Across the aisle and across Missouri, we know we can work together for a better future.  

Sincerely,

Jeremy Cady; state director of Americans for Prosperity

Jeanette Mott Oxford; executive director of Empower Missouri

Sara Baker; policy director of American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri