Community Justice Coalition

Empower Missouri has a long history of fighting for criminal legal system reform.

The Community Justice Coalition (CJC), is a multi-sector team of dedicated advocates who envision a future without mass incarceration. Through deep policy research, field work and legislative advocacy, we battle the harms of mass incarceration in our communities.

We work across the five stages of the criminal legal system:

  • Policing: We advocate for policies that dramatically reduce bias in policing, ensure that citizens’ rights are protected in all interactions with law enforcement, and hold police officers accountable for inappropriate use of force or other violations of citizen rights.
  • Pre-Trial Supervision: We uphold the core principle of our justice system that a person is innocent until proven guilty and advocate for most non-violent individuals awaiting trial to be monitored in the community (where they can continue to work and care for their families) rather than in pre-trial detention.
  • Trial: We advocate for an expansion of Missouri’s woefully underfunded public defender system, fair jury selection practices, and fair sentencing guidelines.  We advocate for community-based restorative justice solutions for all non-violent offenses, particularly drug-related offenses.
  • Incarceration: We advocate for an incarceration system that is focused on rehabilitation, not punishment.  We advocate for humane conditions for all detainees as well as full access to healthcare, education, job training, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Re-Entry: We advocate against policies that continue to punish formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed their time in prison.  We fight for expungement of nonviolent criminal records, full access to employment and housing opportunities, and reunification with families.

People living in poverty and people of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated than their peers in Missouri. And, following incarceration, it is nearly impossible to break out of a cycle of poverty & incarceration because of state-enforced punitive measures imposed on ex-offenders. We must abandon practices that have failed our state for decades and find new ways to address crime, poverty, and the drug epidemic in our state.


  • Missouri has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the country & the fastest growing female prison population in the nation.
  • Missouri spends more than $725 million each year on corrections costs.  
  • In 2020, Black drivers were 71% more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and 25% more likely to be arrested in Missouri.
Missouri’s criminal legal system is heavily broken. It continues to rely on outdated judicial precedents and punishes people who are poor. It is largely driven by racial disparities, which directly obstruct and deconstruct our minority communities.

A simple lack of money can have devastating impacts on one’s livelihood. Society can only end cycles of poverty by equipping people with the tools they need to be successful, such as improving employment and promoting stable housing. We need a justice system that has different responses to different situations by shifting resources to treatment, prevention and long-term public safety resources.
We are dedicated to working towards bipartisan efforts that can be supported by, provide benefits to, empower all across the state making Missouri not only a better state but ensuring that we lead the way into the future.  By focusing law enforcement on low-level offenses and subjecting criminal defendants to money bail and other fees, our country effectively places the greatest financial burden on the low-income people whose cases make up the largest share of many courts’ dockets. Criminal Justice reforms mean reducing both the number of people entering jails and prisons, eliminating extreme laws and policies that drive poverty, long prison sentences and reducing recidivism rates. 


The CJC works to elevate specific policy reforms that can put us on the road to ending mass incarceration and the endless cycle of formerly incarcerated people living in poverty. Our current approach isn’t working. Missouri’s mass incarceration rates devastate families and communities, depress local economies, and do not improve public safety. Coalition members share stories and data from their own work and experiences with the criminal justice system to build a collective understanding of current obstacles facing criminal justice reform. The coalition educates the community about the ways our current system is failing us while collaboratively developing & advocating for significant policy reforms with the state legislature.

Click HERE to view our events page to learn when the next Community Justice Coalition meeting will be held. It is staffed by Gwen Smith-Moore.

Use the form below to let us know that you’re interested in joining our Community Justice Coalition.