Just last month, Governor Parson signed five different criminal justice related bills into law. Each of these bills were supported by members of the Smart Sentencing Coalition, a coalition coordinated by Empower Missouri and made up of advocates and organizations from across the state.
These new laws are steps in the right direction, but our work on criminal justice reform is nowhere near complete. There are so many other small steps that can and need to take place in Missouri that would move the needle even further toward smart sentencing and that have already been enacted in other states. The time is right in the Show Me State for even more positive changes to our justice system and Empower Missouri, along with the advocates who are a part of the Smart Sentencing Coalition, will be right there pushing it along. Our agenda of reform for 2020 includes:
- Allowance for geriatric parole. Lawmakers could authorize early release via medical parole for the terminally ill, geriatric, or permanently incapacitated. Research shows that the rate at which individuals re-offend goes down significantly as a person ages. South Carolina officials included this reform in their 2010 sentencing change package. For the past two years in Missouri, Rep. Hannegan has introduced a bill that would implement a form of geriatric parole. Empower Missouri plans to continue to support this measure next year, plus more robust forms from sponsors such as Rep. Neely and Rep. Washington.
- Removal of licensing barriers for certain convictions. Individuals with criminal convictions on their records have many barriers to face, even after they have served their time. One way to help individuals succeed after release is changing the laws on professional license requirements. Lawmakers could remove blanket bans on professional licenses for individuals with certain felony convictions. In Delaware, policymakers passed House Bill 97, which removes licensing barriers for various criminal convictions. In Missouri in 2019, Rep. Grier introduced a bill which makes it easier for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain access to professional licenses. Rep. Toalson Reisch introduced legislation to end the current ban that many formerly incarcerated persons face around working for businesses that sell or serve alcohol or lottery tickets. Empower Missouri will continue to support these measures in 2020.
- Updating Missouri’s HIV-specific criminal code. Today, people living with HIV can have a full, healthy and long life. Yet in Missouri, a person living with HIV can still be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for inability to prove they disclosed their HIV status to sexual partners.Moreover, acts that pose no risk of HIV transmission are also subject to criminal prosecution (exposure to saliva, for instance). In Colorado, advocates successfully pushed for the repeal of two HIV-specific statutes, and the reform of one, making their state code more aligned with current medical advancements and knowledge around HIV. In Missouri , Rep. Rehdar and Rep. McCreery introduced bills (HB 167 and HB 166) in 2019, and previous versions in 2018, that would update these outdated laws.. Empower Missouri, through the work of our HIV Justice Coalition, will continue to support HIV policy modernization in 2020. If you want to help us, we’re currently hiring for the position of Justice Organizer, which would have a heavy focus on this policy priority.
- Changing the parole board. Members of the Missouri parole board are appointed by the Governor and have no specific educational or career background requirements in order to serve. Many of our current parole board members are former legislators and/or former members of law enforcement. Our criminal justice reform advocates believe that the individuals who decide if and when inmates are released on parole should have a diverse set of backgrounds, including criminal justice, social work, psychology or other related fields of service. This recommendation can be found in a report produced by The Sentencing Project. It states, “members of paroling authorities should be civil servants, rather than governor-appointees, with relevant experience and professional training to enable them to fairly and effectively evaluate parole applicants.” Legislation calling for this has been discussed in the past, but no serious movement toward it has occured, so Empower Missouri will bring this idea to legislators for possible introduction in 2020.
If you are interested in working for positive criminal justice reforms in Missouri we would love for you to join us! Become a Smart Sentencing Coalition member HERE.