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.