Jefferson City – Yesterday, the Missouri Legislature approved HB 192, a proposal that would reform Missouri sentencing law and allow eligible individuals to have earlier parole hearings. HB 192 requires the parole board to evaluate those currently serving mandatory minimums and decide if they should be released.
In the first ten months, estimates hold that almost 200 individuals will be released. After four years, this proposal is projected to decrease the Missouri prison population by 925 individuals. HB 192 has passed through both chambers of the Missouri Legislature and now heads to Governor Parson’s desk.
Mandatory minimums are fixed terms that attach a specific number of years to particular charges. Those convicted under these charges must serve a percentage of their mandatory prison term. Mandatory minimums eliminate judicial discretion and are a principal tool of the failed War on Drugs.
Studies from National Research Council hold that minimum sentences have few, if any, deterrent effects. Between 1980 and 2016, Missouri’s prison population grew more than five-fold (467 percent). In 2017, nearly half (48 percent) of the Missouri prison population was serving time for a nonviolent offense, including drug offenses.
“HB 192 puts Missouri one step closer to restructuring our criminal justice system,” said ACLU of Missouri Legislative and Policy Director Sara Baker. “This legislation supports the reform of a system that unfairly targets marginalized communities. We will support continued changes to the justice system in Missouri and work for the day that our criminal justice system is free from racial bias, promotes public safety, and respects constitutional liberties.”
HB 192 would also forbid courts from threatening jail time if a defendant fails to pay “board bills,” fees charged for being incarcerated in a county jail. This helps to curtail the unconstitutional practice of modern day debtors’ prisons.
"HB 192 contains two of Empower Missouri's criminal justice priorities for 2019, so we are very thankful that it is on it's way to Governor Parson's desk," said Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri. "First HB 192 tackles the way some municipalities have practically established debtors' prisons by stacking fines on those unable to pay. Secondly, reforming Mandatory Prison Time is a 'smart on crime' decision that many other states have already made, to reduce the prison population, while doing no harm to public safety."
The ACLU of Missouri is part of the Missouri Sentencing Coalition which includes Empower Missouri and Americans for Prosperity and several other organizations.
“Americans for Prosperity is thankful for the overwhelming support HB 192 received after Governor Mike Parson made criminal justice reform a priority in his State of the State address,” says Jeremy Cady, State Director of Americans for Prosperity. “We’re hopeful the governor promptly signs HB 192 - a first step that will both reduce government spending and strengthen the faith Missourians have in our criminal justice system.”
The Missouri Sentencing Coalition includes Missouri Appleseed, Jewish Community Relations Council, Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, reStart Inc, in2Action, ArchCity Defenders, All of Us or None, The Center for Women in Transition, St. Louis, Criminal Justice Ministry, St. Louis, Empower Missouri, The Sentencing Project, The Clark-Fox Family Foundation, St. Louis, ACLU of Missouri, Americans for Prosperity, The Innocence Project of the Midwest, and Women Against the Registry.