Criminal Legal System Reform Need to Knows

Person-First Language

Person-first language was born out of the disability rights community. It is the idea that we first acknowledge someone’s humanity before their circumstance. For example, instead of referring to people as ‘inmates’ which dehumanizes them and reduces their position in society, we will say ‘people experiencing incarceration.’ The coalition will always use person-first language in our communications and when we discuss individuals at the center of our policy work. Person-first language is not without controversy and we should remember that individuals have the ability and right to speak their own experience however they see fit. 

The Five Phases of Criminal Legal Reform

Policing: This stage includes how police interact with the public and where they choose to assert power. This can include vehicle stops, patrolling patterns, searches, police recruitment, and more.

Pretrial: This stage refers to all interactions that happen before a trial, including pretrial incarceration, supervision, investigations and more. 

Trial and Sentencing: People who have been accused of crimes often struggle during their trial process. From strategic underfunding of the Public Defenders system to systemic racism within the criminal legal system, policy change can support our community and reimagine punishment in Missouri. 

Incarceration: Incarceration impacts multiple people in the family and the community beyond the person who is being detained. People who are behind bars should be treated with dignity and worth. Ideally individuals should receive true rehabilitation and education while incarcerated.

Re-Entry: Returning home after any period of time away is difficult, this is exceptionally true for individuals returning from incarceration. There are many things we know reduce recidivism rates including housing, counseling, and a job with a living wage. Yet there are roadblocks which make these activities and services exceedingly difficult for our neighbors. 

Where Are Decisions Made?

Local Government: City ordinance violations are largely controlled by city or county government. Jails are usually managed by the local government. Most police departments and boards in Missouri are managed locally, and significant policing changes can be won with advocacy. Some jail and prison programming is decided at the local level.

State: The state of Missouri has broad responsibilities to alter the criminal code, change the types of crimes that are prosecuted and more. 

Federal: The federal government has significant sway over states. Prisons, federal crimes, policing and more are handled at the federal level even when the state manages some or all components.

Understanding Complex Systems

Jail vs. Prison: Although the words jail and prison are often used interchangeably, they are two different types of incarceration. Jails are typically used to detain people awaiting trial or sentencing, and those held for minor crimes (in MO, sentenced to 1 year or less). Prisons, on the other hand, house people who have been convicted of a crime and are designed for long-term, post-sentencing detention.

Probation vs. Parole: Probation and parole are both alternatives to incarceration, but they have different meanings. Probation is a sentence that is given instead of or in addition to jail or prison time. People on probation are supervised by the court or a probation officer in the community. Parole is an early release from prison. People on parole are supervised by a parole officer and must follow certain conditions of parole.