Rabiah Burks, 202-822-6700
MATTHEW CHARLES, BIPARTISAN GROUPS URGE MISSOURI LEGISLATURE TO PASS SENTENCING REFORM
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Today, criminal justice reform advocates and Matthew Charles, the first beneficiary of the First Step Act, urged lawmakers at the Missouri State Capitol to pass meaningful sentencing reform this year. Charles served 21 years in federal prison for a drug offense and was released in January because of retroactive sentencing reforms included in the First Step Act, which President Donald Trump signed on December 21, 2018. Charles attended the 2019 State of the Union Address as a guest of President Trump. He was joined by Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin), chair of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, and representatives from Americans for Prosperity-Missouri, Missouri Century Foundation, FAMM (formerly Families Against Mandatory Minimums), Empower Missouri, and Prison Fellowship.
“I’m living proof that sometimes we put people in prison much longer than necessary,” said Matthew Charles, justice fellow at FAMM. “I deserved to be held accountable for my crimes, but I didn’t need 21 years in prison to wise up. Missouri should get rid of mandatory sentences. Judges need to be able to fit the punishment to each person and their needs.”
The legislature is considering two sentencing reform bills. HB 113, introduced by Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage), would give Missouri judges flexibility to avoid minimum prison terms in some cases when imposing the minimum prison term would be unjust or is unnecessary to protect the public. HB 113 passed the House by a vote of 140 to 17. SB 8, introduced by Sen. Ed Emery (R-Lamar), was originally identical to HB 113, but has been changed to narrow the list of crimes that trigger Missouri’s enhanced mandatory prison terms for repeat offenders. The modified SB 8 was scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today.
“Nobody is safer when the wrong people go to prison for too long,” said Molly Gill, FAMM’s vice president of policy.“Some people are better off staying in the community and going to drug treatment; some need long prison sentences. The one-size-fits-all approach isn’t increasing public safety, and it’s costly. The better approach is to let local judges decide what is right for their communities.”
“Missouri must embrace a smart-on-crime, soft-on-taxpayer approach,” said Jeremy Cady, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Missouri. “Doing so, we can address Missouri’s over-incarceration problem while increasing public safety and helping provide second chances for individuals who have paid their debt to society.”
“Criminal justice reform is an opportunity for Missouri to hold offenders accountable for their wrongdoing while ensuring sentences are not excessive. We believe this will help protect both offenders and taxpayers. This commonsense reform is a chance for Missouri to take a smarter approach to criminal sentencing,” said Gregg Keller, chairman of Missouri Century Foundation.
“An analysis of prison sentences in Missouri shows that mandatory minimums have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color,” said Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri. “Giving judges more flexibility to do risk assessment at sentencing can help prevent unjust punishments in communities that historically have been over-policed and over-charged.”
“Missouri’s current mandatory minimums are too long and disregard both the harm caused to the victim and the value of the life of the person who has committed the crime. Worse still, these disproportional sentences use precious justice resources for over-incarceration to the detriment of public safety,” said Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy & public policy at Prison Fellowship. “HB 113 has Prison Fellowship’s full support.”
FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safeguard taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM is helping transform America’s criminal justice system by uniting the voices of impacted families and individuals and elevating the issues all across the country.
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