How Conservatives Learned to Love Prison Reform
The High Cost of Mandatory Minimum Sentences
A Discussion of the Connection Between Prison Spending and Education Achievement
Fox Business highlights the benefits of helping the incarcerated.
I encourage you to read this article. It speaks directly to what we at www.End85.com and many others are saying about the mass incarceration that is occurring in the United States. It's time for our legislators to be fiscally responsible and to implement true sentencing reform.
This same scenario happens across the country. This is why we are fighting for reform! Please watch this news segment that CBS aired on 60 Minutes.
This article was printed in the Summer 2014 edition of the Missouri CURE newsletter.
Mike Anderson and the 85% Issue
by Caroline McGinness
As we fight to reform the mandatory minimum sentencing law in Missouri, we need to consider what Mike Anderson’s case and the 85% issue have in common. When the state legislators return to the next legislative session, they need to take time to think about what the court in Mississippi County, Missouri recently decided.
By now, most of us know the story of Mike Anderson. It made national news. He was a St. Louis area man who was convicted of first degree robbery and sentenced to prison. He didn’t go to prison, though. Instead, for whatever excuse that the “clerical error” occurred, Mike Anderson never spent a day in prison. That is, until last July, when it was time for him to be released. It was then that the Missouri Department of Corrections realized that he had never been incarcerated. He was then apprehended and placed in the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Missouri.
Especially following the CBS Morning News story highlighting his situation, many people across the country learned of what had transpired in Anderson’s life in the years following his conviction. Had this first time offender become a habitual criminal? Had he brought harm and destruction to his community? No. What he had done was live a quiet and productive life. He owned a business, married, had children, built a home, and coached children’s sports. That sounds like the kind of man we all want living in our communities. He paid taxes, voted, and never tried to hide his identity. In plain sight, he led a model life.
When appealing his incarceration, his attorney argued that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” to imprison a man who obviously had done well for himself, his family, and his community. The judge agreed. He released Anderson, and he counted the days between his conviction and the present as time served. He cited that Anderson had shown that he was “a good man.” Those were the judge’s words. It was obvious that he had rehabilitated himself. In fact, his lawyer contended that he did a better job rehabilitating himself on the outside than he would have had he gone to prison.
Is Mike Anderson some sort of oddity in the world? Is he somehow unique in being able to be a model citizen in the wake of making a mistake? He isn’t. He is a regular man who did nothing more than learn from his mistakes and then proceed to live a regular life. There are hundreds, if not more, Mike Andersons who are being warehoused in Missouri prisons. Wasted productivity. Ruined futures. Destroyed lives. All for what? Would it be cruel and unusual punishment for Mike Anderson to be warehoused, but not so for other men? I don’t think you can answer that truthfully with a “yes.”
Missouri has had its fair share of negative press this year regarding our prisons and court systems. Ryan Ferguson brought a spotlight to the unfairness of keeping a man imprisoned for a crime he had not committed. Mike Anderson brought awareness to the ability of men and women to be productive members of society as first time offenders. Now it’s our opportunity to encourage and educate our legislators to do something positive. We need to use the awareness that has been drawn by these cases to reform our sentencing laws. Particularly first time offenders should have the ability to earn release at 50% through good behavior. If Mike Anderson can do it through an error on the state’s part and through media attention, then other inmates deserve the opportunity to earn their freedom through showing a pattern of good behavior.
I invite you to contact us at www.End85.com for more information on how you can help bring about change. Don’t leave it up to someone else to fight the good fight. Change begins with you.
Complacency is Dangerous
by Caroline McGinness
The fight to reform the 85% mandatory minimum sentencing in Missouri continues. During the past legislative session, no bill was passed. I repeat: no bill was passed. There has been misinformation about the 85% effort. Several people have been told in different prisons across the state that the 85% reform has already been signed into law. Some of the confusion comes from the changes in drug sentencing that occurred with the reform made to the criminal code in the last session. That has nothing to do with the 85% mandatory minimums “Truth in Sentencing” law that we are fighting against. The rumors and misinformation have caused some people to become complacent: content, satisfied, inactive. If people think the problem is solved, they stop trying. If people stop trying, we fail.
I don’t know exactly where the misinformation is coming from, but I do know that some prisoners have been told by Corrections Officers that the 85% reform has already passed. Everyone needs to ask WHY someone would want you to believe that the fight is over? The answer is easy: Complacency is dangerous. When people stop trying, we fail.
It is election time, and it is also time for the new legislative session. We don’t want the 85% mandatory minimum issue to be forgotten. The best way for us to get reform this year is for the legislators to hear from us often and consistently. Get out your pens, paper, computers, and telephones. It’s time for us to get busy.
To help you get busy, I have some tips on how you can most effectively fight this battle when talking to or writing to legislators:
1) Be polite and to the point.
2) Have facts to use in your argument. Educate yourself about the law and know where it started and how it needs to be changed.
3) Don’t approach it as a plea to bring your loved one home. Politicians will not be swayed by how badly you want your loved one out of prison. What will sway them?
4) Concentrate on the financial benefits the state will have by reforming the law. Politicians understand being fiscally smart. Pointing out the dollars and cents benefits to reforming the 85% law will get you and our cause farther with the legislators.
5) Be aware that politicians are keenly aware of their image. Don’t ask them to open the floodgates of prisons. Be specific in goals we are working toward, and understand that the changes will have to be completed over time. Reforming the law for first time offenders will get our foot in the door for future changes. It has to start somewhere.
6) Be persistent. Contact legislators regularly. I know that some of you have signed petitions. Petitions have their place, but they are one document. Politicians take notice when lots of letters, emails, and phone calls come to their office about a subject. I know because I used to work in a U.S. Senator’s office. Make a positive nuisance of yourself!
7) Talk to your friends, your neighbors, the girl who cuts your hair (I did this) and anyone else you get to talk to about the issue. When it’s explained to people, they see the sense in what we are doing. Encourage them to get involved.
In addition to our website, I encourage all of you to join the Show-Me No 85 page on Facebook. It is operated by Lisa Counts whose son, James, is incarcerated at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri. It is an excellent place to network with others who are committed to making this reform happen.
Don’t let complacency stop you from doing the right thing. When people stop trying, we fail. Sure, it takes a little time to contact legislators. Think about it, though: TIME is what we are trying to save the men and women in our state who are unjustly being warehoused by the 85% law. We can give some of our time to save them some of theirs. Complacency is Dangerous, and Change Starts with You.
This story was first aired on September 30, 2014 by KY3 News in Springfield, Missouri. On the outset, it might look like this is just another anti-crime story, but in reality the sheriffs in this article are complaining about prison overcrowding. We have been arguing all along that incarcerating first time offenders for decades does nothing but create a backlog which allows repeat offenders to remain on the street because there is no room in the prisons. There is no place to put them when they re-offend, so they stay in our communities to commit more crimes. We can help solve this problem by giving first time offenders the opportunity to prove that they have rehabilitated and can be productive members of our society once again. It makes more sense to give first time offenders who show good behavior the opportunity to be free than for us to allow persistent offenders to remain on our streets.
"Sheriffs Slam Probation, Parole System; Say Offenders Need More Checks"
by Sara Forehetz September 30, 2014 www.ky3.com
Springfield, Missouri -- Three county sheriffs tell KY3 News that problems in the Missouri Division of Probation and Parole put public safety at risk. They say, once criminals are out of lock-up, they are not being monitored closely, and some commit much more serious crimes.
"Whenever you have that, society pays," said Sheriff Darrin Reed.
A young girl was killed in a car crash three weeks ago in Gainesville, but the heartache will last forever in the sheriff's mind.
"Too many times, I've had to go tell a parent that your child is deceased to the hands of somebody like this," Reed said.
The driver in the crash, Joshua McMackin, 22, was arrested on suspicion of intoxicated driving, manslaughter and assault. Records show, even before the deadly crash, McMackin had a long rap sheet, and Sheriff Reed says he never should have been out of lock-up. Reed says Alley Chambers should still be alive.
"There is a public outcry in Ozark County and I will do my job to protect them. I will keep putting them in jail, but it's not the sheriff's department's fault because they are being released on these probations. It's the simple fact that Probation and Parole is not revoking them, is not violating them and issuing a probation violation.
We contacted the Division of Probation and Parole's leaders in Jefferson City. They refused to do an interview. They said in an e-mailed statement: "The top priority of the Division of Probation and Parole and its officers is to protect public safety. Our officers continuously assess and evaluate the offenders pursuant to our policies. There has been no change to the policies regarding the supervision of offenders on probation and parole."
Sheriff Reed isn't the only one angry about probation and parole policies.
"How am I justifying to these people, that in the community, yeah, I know he's been arrested five times and he is on probation and parole, but I'm sorry? We can't put him in jail even though I know he's high," said Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase.
Degase says he used to go on home visits with Probation and Parole officers to randomly check on offenders, and his office used to do random drug testing, but no more is that happening.
"We deal with this every day, where people use fake urine, or bring somebody else's urine to go in for a urinalysis test. And if they're not observed, it's very frustrating. We have been told we are no longer involved in that process -- home visits. I couldn't tell you the last time we went on a home visit," Degase said.
In fact, Degase says another teen's live would have been spared if someone had been keeping closer tabs on murder suspect Sean D. Roberson.
"We had a subject who we arrested her who had been stalking a girlfriend. He'd broken into her house, followed her to school. There was a chase with my officers that resulted in him being shot multiple times with a bean bag gun and being Tazed, and before he was taken into custody for this, he went to prison. He did some time in prison. When he came out, there were violations in the Springfield area, multiple violations, and subsequently he ended up committing a murder in Taney County," said Degase.
Eighteen-year-old Andros Valentin-Vargas was killed in Taney County.
Now, to Wright County.
"We got repeat people who are just continuously being put out on parole, come out on parole and we're arresting them again for drugs. And to me that should be sending them right back straight to the Department of Corrections, because, when you come out on parole, you are supposed to walk the straight and narrow path," said Wright County Sheriff Glenn Adler. "The system is not working."
"I'm going to be here and I'm going to keep applying pressure until something is fixed," Reed said.
KY3 found it is likely the problem also includes overcrowded jails, prisons, and court dockets.
All three sheriffs feel like something changed with Probation and Parole's policies starting near the beginning of the year, however the Board says nothing has changed.