Testimony in Support of HB 1996 – Age Protections for Certain Drug Felonies

Date: February 20th, 2024
To: Representative Hannah Kelley, Chairwoman, and Members of the House Committee on Children and Families
From: Gwen Smith, Criminal Justice Policy Manager, Empower Missouri
Re: Support for HB 1996

As the largest and oldest anti-poverty non-profit in our state, Empower Missouri is committed to improving the quality of life for all Missouri residents through advocacy. Since our inception, Empower Missouri has focused on the criminal justice system and its impacts. Our Community Justice Coalition consists of community advocates and organizations from across the state who work with those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Many coalition members are formerly incarcerated or have currently incarcerated loved ones, and all are connected by a vision for a future without mass incarceration.

We are providing testimony today in support of HB 1996, sponsored by Representative Perkins, which would provide age protections for those under the age of 22 regarding the felony charge of distribution of a controlled substance in a protected location (including schools), and for the felony charge of manufacturing of a controlled substance. 

The criminal charge code lacks nuance, and context is rarely taken into consideration. HB 1996 provides this context in a critical way for young people charged with certain drug felonies. There is ample data that shows the relationship between age and criminal activity, indicating that the adolescent brain does not reach maturity until the mid to late 20s. While adults who have reached full brain development use the prefrontal cortex to make decisions, adolescents and young adults use the amygdala, which is responsible for impulsivity and failure to appreciate risks. HB 1996 acknowledges the reality that youthful offenders are operating with a significantly different brain chemistry. Reducing harsh punishment sanctions for certain drug crimes for those under the age of 22 means that these individuals have a better chance of turning their lives around and making better choices as they enter adulthood, rather than facing lengthy prison sentences for youthful mistakes and getting caught up in the vicious cycle of recidivism. 

HB 1996 sets an important precedent in taking age into consideration for felony offenses. Empower Missouri urges this committee to take action to pass HB 1996 into law. Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter.

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