On May 15, in the final hours of Legislative Session 2020, the Missouri General Assembly Truly Agreed and Finally Passed the Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 600 (SS SB 600). This legislation utilizes several criminal justice policies that have been tried repeatedly and proven to be costly failures:
- imposition of mandatory minimums
- increasing the felony level of crimes
- ordering that sentences be served consecutively instead of concurrently
- creation of new felony level statutes
- enhancements of one penalty when occurring in conjunction with another, and
- changing language to make it easier for a prosecutor to convict a defendant
None of these improve public safety or reduce violence. According to Dr. Valerie Wright in a report called Deterrence in Criminal Justice: “Existing evidence does not support any significant public safety benefit of the practice of increasing the severity of sentences by imposing longer prison terms….. mandatory minimums that increase imprisonment not only burden state budgets, but also fail to enhance public safety.”
For years, Missouri was one of the few states remaining in the U.S. with a growing prison population. The Justice Reinvestment Task Force process here pointed out ways to both reduce incarceration and protect public safety. Gov. Mike Parson showed leadership by setting the tone on this in his 2019 State of the State Address:
“As a former sheriff and law enforcement officer for over 22 years, I understand, firsthand, the importance of re-entry programs and alternative sentencing. We need to be more efficient in these programs so we truly offer a second chance. And, as Governor, I am NOT interested in building more prisons.”
Gov. Parson signed House Bill 192 into law in 2019, a positive step in that direction. Yet a year later, the General Assembly has sent a bill to him that will do just the opposite, growing our prison population by 801 prisoners by Fiscal Year 2030, according to the fiscal note on the bill.
The fiscal note also says: “For the purpose of this proposed legislation, officials from the Office of State Public Defender (SPD) state they cannot assume that existing staff will provide effective representation for any new cases arising where indigent persons are charged with the enhanced penalties for offenses committed using a dangerous or deadly weapon. The Missouri State Public Defender System is currently providing legal representation in caseloads in excess of recognized standards.”
Given that the poverty rate for African Americans is more than double that of European Americans in Missouri (25.7% versus 11 percent), the inadequate trauma-informed infrastructure that we currently have in place, and the racial patterns that have been thoroughly documented related to mass incarceration, SS SB 600 will undoubtedly have a racially disparate impact on Black Missourians. As Michelle Alexander wrote in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, “One in 4 women have a loved one behind bars; the figure is nearly 1 in 2 for black women.”
Please contact Gov. Parson’s office today to ask him to veto SS SB 600 because:
- Get tough strategies have been proven to be costly failures. Missouri will spend more money on incarceration without a positive outcome if this bill is implemented.
- SS SB 600 repeats patterns that have led to the over-incarceration of Black citizens in past decades.
To send a message to Gov. Parson:
- Call his office at 573-751-3222.
- Use the email contact form at: https://governor.mo.gov/contact-us
If you are pressed for time, you may also simply quickly edit a template that we have already set up for you on our website at this link.