Empower Missouri Condemns Signing of Senate Bill 600; “Get Tough on Crime” Approaches Are Costly Failures

We at Empower Missouri are extremely disappointed to learn that Gov. Parson plans to sign Senate Bill 600. This reverses the positive direction that his administration appeared to be heading in his 2019 State of the State Address.

At that time Gov. Parson said: “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.”

Senate Bill 600 takes Missouri deeper into the mass incarceration that has exploded our prison population and our state budget. In 2017, Missouri incarceration rate was the eighth-highest in the nation, according to the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, while the national incarceration rate had declined eight percent. They also noted that Missouri had the fastest growing female prison population between 2010 and 2015.

Rather than following the wisdom that other states are showing, choosing to be smart on crime and reducing state spending on corrections, Gov. Parson is signaling a retreat into past failed policies. We know that mass incarceration has disproportionately impacted Missourians who are African American and those with low incomes in the past and expect to see this again.

The fiscal note for SB 600 projects that Missouri’s prison population could grow by 2554 prisoners by Fiscal year 2038 because of the cumulative impact of the bill. In 2017, when the building of two new prisons was being seriously discussed, the cost of those prisons was nearly half a billion dollars, with operating expenses annually of more than $50 million. With Gov. Parson withholding funds from essential programs like K-12 and higher education, it is clear that we cannot afford to spend any state dollar on policies that are proven failures.

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.” Not only will this bill not benefit society, it will actually harm us from a standpoint of social and racial justice.

Statement from Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy & Organizing, Empower Missouri

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