We Must Not Forget That Our Fight for Criminal Justice Reforms is Critical in 2021

As the 2021 Legislative session gets underway, we must not forget what happened in 2020:

Let us not forget how the killing of George Floyd brought to light the fight for policing reform.

Let us not forget how COVID ran through our prisons, which holds many individuals who could successfully and safely be released. 

Let us not forget that hundreds of thousands were out of work, many of whom have a criminal record and face additional barriers to obtaining new employment

The Smart Sentencing Coalition, a coalition coordinated by Empower Missouri and made up of advocates and organizations from across the state, will not forget. We are ready to advocate for the passage of new laws in 2021 that will create a more just and fair future. 

Our agenda for change in 2021 includes:

  1. Pass policing reform. Sen. Brian Williams has a bill (Senate Bill 60) that begins to address policing reforms. Empower Missouri believes more is needed but his bill is a good first step in the direction of reform. His bill covers critical issues including no-knock warrants, use of force, choke holds, sexual misconduct of officers, officer training.  

  2. Allow for geriatric parole. Lawmakers need to look at the potential of authorizing early release via medical parole for the terminally ill, geriatric, or permanently incapacitated individuals in our prison system. Research shows that the rate at which individuals reoffend drops significantly as a person ages. South Carolina officials included this reform in their 2010 sentencing change package. Rep. Tom Hannegan has introduced House Bill 277 that would implement a form of geriatric parole. This type of measure would reduce our prison population in a safe way that would protect older prisoners from the increased possibility of COVID infection. 

  3. Remove employment barriers for those with criminal records. Individuals with criminal convictions on their records have many barriers they face after they have served their time. One way to help individuals succeed after release include changing the laws that impose blanket bans on certain jobs for those with certain criminal records. Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch has filed House Bill 316 that would remove the ban on employment for those with a criminal record in places that sell and serve alcohol or sell lottery tickets. This change will open thousands of new employment opportunities for Missourians with a criminal record. Additionally, we are prioritizing enacting legislation that would expunge criminal records for certain individuals after a certain period of time, which would also increase the options that individuals have to obtain employment. Sen. Brian Williams has sponsored Senate Bill 61 to address this issue. This bill would automatically make arrest records unavailable during a record search as well as implement other measures that will make the expungement process more easily accessible to more people.

The time is right in Missouri to enact these positive changes to our justice system and Empower Missouri’s Smart Sentencing Coalition will be right there pushing it along. If you are interested in working to fight for positive criminal justice reforms in Missouri, we would love for you to join us! For more information about the Smart Sentencing Coalition, email Christine Woody at christine@empowermissouri.org.

In Solidarity, 

Christine Woody
Senior Policy and Organizing Coordinator