Missouri House Democrats outlined a criminal justice reform package this week in Jefferson City, reforms they say are aimed at producing more just and effective outcomes.

State Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, briefs Capitol reporters about criminal justice reform efforts on February 11, 2019, as House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, (right) listens (photo courtesy of Benjamin Peters at House Communications)

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, tells the Capitol Press Corps that maintaining a strong criminal justice system means addressing its weaknesses.

“If we truly want to address crime in our state, we must end counterproductive practices that come down harder on low-income defendants and make it more difficult for past offenders to find jobs and contribute to society,” Quade says.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Zel Fischer told lawmakers during January’s State of the Judiciary Address that too many Missourians who are arrested cannot afford bail, even for low-level offenses.

State Rep. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Chairman, has proposed a “Money Bail Reform Act.”

“When a poor defendant sits in jail awaiting trial while a wealthier defendant can go free by pulling out his wallet, it calls the fairness of our criminal justice system into question,” says Roberts.

Meantime, legislation to restore voting rights of Missourians on probation or parole has been filed by the ranking Democrat on the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis, says if we want to fully integrate former prisoners back into society, their voting rights should be restored upon release.

“There are 13 other states in the United States that their particular legislation says that you can vote as soon as you get out of jail, including Utah,” Franks tells Capitol reporters.

The state Department of Corrections (DOC) says about 59,000 Missourians are currently on probation or parole. They would be allowed to vote, under Franks’ House Bill 508.

Under current Missouri law, the voting rights of convicted felons aren’t restored until they complete their probation or parole.

Franks says excluding people from the duties and obligations of citizenship won’t make them better citizens, adding that his bill has GOP co-sponsors.

“I’ve gotten a lot of support on both sides of the aisle in both chambers (House and Senate), I’ve actually been meeting with Republican legislators, on both sides,” says Franks.

State Reps. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, and Jim Neely, R-Cameron, are co-sponsoring Franks’ bill. Rehder chairs the House Rules Committee.

Representative Franks tells Missourinet he’s also spoken to Governor Mike Parson (R) to request his support for the bill. House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, has referred Franks’ bill to the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee.