Extension of restitution to all wrongly convicted prefiled for 2023 session

      People convicted of felonies in Missouri but proven innocent by DNA evidence can be paid $100 for every day they were incarcerated after their conviction.  People proven innocent by any other means get nothing.  At least one Missouri lawmaker will try to change that in the 2023 legislative session.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Kansas City Democrat Mark Sharp filed on Thursday House Bill 113 to extend restitution to anyone exonerated for a felony in Missouri. 

      Sharp said the idea continues to have bipartisan support. 

      “I think most folks would agree that if somebody was wrongfully convicted it shouldn’t matter if it was through DNA tests or through any evidentiary method.”

      Similar legislation was approved by two House committees in the session that ended in May by a combined vote of 24-1, but it was never brought up on the House floor for debate. 

      Sharp said the amount of harm done to a person and their family by a wrongful conviction goes well beyond the inability to have a job during their incarceration.  It can involve difficulty finding work and housing after release, lingering issues that could require medical treatment and counseling, and relationship issues. 

      “This can devastate an entire generation, or several generations in the family when the head of a household or a man or a husband or a wife or a father or a mother or a daughter or a son, for that matter, is put away wrongfully, and for them to walk away with nothing just isn’t right,” said Sharp.  “If somebody wasn’t able to receive all the restitution payments, those payments need to be then deferred to someone else in that family.  This needs to be a full payout.”

      Sharp hopes the legislature would also look at some point into increasing the restitution amount from $100 for every day of imprisonment. 

      “It probably doesn’t go far enough, honestly.  I would hope that at some point we could have a robust discussion about what that payment should look like,” Sharp said.  “It’s not going to break the bank … this is something that happens very rarely and when it does we need to pay them accordingly.”

      Missouri’s restitution statute has been under more scrutiny in recent years as more attention was paid to the case of Kevin Strickland.  He was released from prison a year ago after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder before being proven innocent, but because he was not exonerated based on DNA evidence he received no compensation from the State of Missouri.  

Thursday was the first day legislators could prefile bills for the new session, which begins January 4.

House panel advances restitution for all Missouri exonerees

      Anyone exonerated of a crime in Missouri would be eligible for restitution under a plan that has been advanced by a House committee.

Representatives Ron Hicks (left) and Shamed Dogan (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Missouri law allows anyone freed from prison based on DNA evidence to receive restitution.  House Bills 2412 and 2474 would allow those exonerated by any other proof to receive up to $100 a day, up to $36,500 per fiscal year. 

      The bills are sponsored by Representatives Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) and Ron Hicks (R-Defiance)

      “The bottom line to legislation like this is correcting what we’ve done wrong.  As a society, we put people away.  We’ve incarcerated them for years … and then we release them with nothing,” said Hicks.  “We’re not returning them to the way they were when we incarcerated them.  We’re not making them whole again … and when I mean ‘whole again,’ that’s vaguely used because you’ll never make someone whole again once you’ve taken their life away from them and then you hand it back.”

      Missouri’s restitution statute drew attention following the release late last year of Kevin Strickland, who spent 42 years in prison for a crime of which he was cleared but not by DNA evidence.

      “Under Missouri law he is not eligible for compensation from the state of Missouri, so thankfully he was able to get a lot of national attention to his case.  He had a GoFundMe.  They’ve raised over $1-million to this point.  My belief … is that folks like him … should get compensation from the state because … they were done wrong,” said Dogan.

      Many members expressed support for the proposal, but brought up things they’d like to see added.

      Kansas City Democrat Ashley Aune said she wants to see an addition to the bill to ensure exonerees are provided with assistance upon release, in areas like housing and healthcare.

      “There’s a program now for someone that is released and has committed a crime,” Hicks noted.

      “Exactly,” Aune agreed.  “Missouri cannot be a state that treats its parolees better than its exonerees.  It cannot.”

      Columbia representative David Smith (D) was the only vote against the bill.  He opposed it because it would prohibit exonerees from taking the state to court if they receive restitution under this plan.

      “If you’re in prison for five years, under this plan you can get maybe $180,000 restitution but from a lawsuit provision that could be $1-million, plus.”

      Smith suggested allowing exonerees to sue the state and subtracting any resulting settlement from the amount they receive in restitution.

      Supporters of the bill include the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP, whose president, Nimrod Chapel, enthusiastically said the bill, “may not be perfect, but it is a damn site better than where we have been.”

      Another organization offering support is the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.  Cole County prosecutor Locke Thompson said, “As prosecutors we work with people daily, usually victims of crimes, trying to make them whole after they’ve been victimized.  It seems only right that when something as awful as a wrongful conviction happens and we have an actually innocent person in that we make amends to try and make those individuals whole as well.”

      The bills, which have identical language, would also require that an exoneree automatically receive an order of expungement.

      “I would like to see it go back to the person before they were arrested.  Whatever their record showed at that time is exactly what it should show when … we release them,” said Hicks.

      “This, I believe, this year can be the most single, positive piece of legislation that we push out of this body,” said Hicks.

      The committee voted 13-1 to send HB 2474 to another committee.  From there it could go to the full House.

Sponsors of prison nurseries proposal point to successes in other states

      Women entering Missouri prisons could have a chance to bond with their infant children while incarcerated, under a proposal that House members will be asked to consider in the session starting in a few days, but that concept is not new.  Prison nursery programs have existed in other states for years, and in some cases for decades.

      Ellisville Republican Bruce DeGroot is sponsoring one of the bills that would create a prison nursery program in Missouri, House Bill 1897.  He said as a state representative he doesn’t always have the resources to provide extensive data that can help to make a case for one of his proposals, but with this bill there is ample data on what a difference it’s made in other states.

      “Everything I’ve heard about this bill has been extremely positive, as it turned out in other states.”

      DeGroot said while he remains passionate about tort reform, which he believes protects and supports employment opportunities, this is a bill that can have an immediate impact on individual Missourians.

      “There are some bills that are just so directly related to people and their situations in life and this is one of those.”

      Springfield Republican Curtis Trent will also propose prison nursery legislation.  He says as the opening of the new session draws near he’s excited about pursuing this legislation.

      “Of course the legislative process is there to vet these ideas and make sure there are no unintended consequences, but so far the response that I’ve gotten has been very positive, very encouraging, and the data that we have from other states and the input that we have from other people in this state so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Trent.

      Illinois began its Moms and Babies program in 2007 at its Decatur Correctional Center.  Non-violent offenders are allowed to keep their babies with them until the age of two.  The Illinois Department of Public Health provides health education classes as well as lactation support and guidance.  Up to eight mothers and babies are able to live in the facility in safety and with staff support and counseling, and prison staff are trained on the needs of pregnant women and mothers.  Other incarcerated mothers are also able to help care for the children in the nursery.

      As of 2017, more than 90 women had gone through the program.  Only two had returned to prison within three years of release and only two were discharged from the program.      

      Maggie Burke was the warden at Decatur and managed the state’s women’s facilities until 2017.  She said the program has been tremendous in her state and she thinks Missouri should absolutely begin its own.

      “It’s a program that works.  It’s a program that works for moms.  Moms don’t come back to prison.”

      “There is not a ton of research on prison nurseries, but what we do know is that it does reduce the recidivism for the women who go through the program.  They are more bonded with their child and have more of a reason to stay on track when they get out.”

      Debbie Denning, who was part of the exploratory team that created Illinois’ program and was Deputy Director for the department’s Women and Family Services Division, agrees with Burke.

      “I absolutely would recommend that [Missouri] allow this program to happen, and I think that any concerns that legislators have can be addressed and really can help form the program,” said Denning.  “It’s really important not only for the culture of the facility – it makes the administration happy, it makes the employees happy, but overall it’s the best thing for the baby and the mother, and the recidivism shows that. 

      Once the bond occurs the mother is much more motivated to be successful and the administration sees a shift in that facility, and facilities are extremely dark and hard to run and a lightness comes in that you just cannot believe.”

      Burke said the programs in Illinois also take into account the unique needs of incarcerated women, who often are dealing with and need to recover from trauma.

      “A lot of the women have experienced significant trauma throughout their lives which have led them down various paths of substance use, and so a lot of them have never been a parent without some sort of substance use … what we found was that women were able to raise a baby for the first time and bond with a child for the first time without that substance use,” said Burke.

      “Part of our programming is parenting classes on learning how to be a better parent, but also part of our programming was kind of day care classes so that they would learn how you would take care of a child in day care.  You would log when you changed a diaper, what kind of diaper it was that you changed, how much you fed them, how much they ate, what kind of food, what kind of drink, and how much naptime they took.  You become better in tune with your child so when they come home they are better prepared to have more children if they do, just to be a better parent, a more attentive parent.”

      Denning said in Illinois there were those who were skeptical about creating a nursery program, and she was proud to watch their attitudes change once it was in place.

      “I had one sergeant … who was just awful about, ‘Why would we bring babies in prison,’ and ‘These women don’t deserve their children,’ and I put him on the committee.  We had him, within six months on our committee, he was the first one that I had to say, ‘You can’t bring things in for the babies,’ because he was bringing in clothing and different things.  It was just a complete turnaround.” 

Denning continued, “I think that with anybody, when you see that nurturing environment and you see that these women bond with their children … when they started to begin to understand that our job wasn’t to punish, but really to rehabilitate and set this person up to be a parent, to feel that bond with their child, and then to go out and be able to be self-sufficient and not relying on the system.  Once we were able to connect those dots, they were all over being positive about the program.”

      Burke said the program benefits not only the women and children who participate, but the rest of the prison.

      “The culture of the facility kind of changes.  I don’t know if you’ve been into very many prisons but there’s just kind of a feeling when you go into the prison and most facilities don’t feel like a facility that has a bunch of babies in it.”

Among other states that have a prison nursery program is Nebraska, where, as of 2018, there had been a 28-percent reduction in recidivism within 3 years of a participant’s initial offense and a 39-percent reduction in participants returning to prison custody.  From 1994 to 2012, Nebraska’s program saved that state more than $6-million.

      Both Trent and DeGroot say they have talked to the Missouri Department of Corrections and the office of Governor Mike Parson (R) and received positive responses to this idea. 

      The 2022 legislative session begins January 5.

House action leads to chance at parole for man facing sentence of more than 2 centuries

      Missouri House legislation has led to a man securing a chance at parole from prison in the next year, about 69 years earlier than he expected.

Bobby Bostic

      Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison after an armed robbery and carjacking in 1995.  Bostic, who was 16 at the time, was tried as an adult and would not have been eligible for parole until 2091, when he would be 112. 

      A House amendment that became law this year as part of Senate Bill 26 makes eligible to apply for parole anyone sentenced to 15 years or more while a juvenile.  The change gave Bostic a chance at a parole hearing after more than 20 years in prison.  That hearing was completed recently and Bostic was granted parole.  He will be released late next year.

      Bostic’s plight became an issue for the legislature in large part through the efforts of O’Fallon Republican Nick Schroer, who was glad to hear about the parole board’s decision.

      “I’m incredibly satisfied.  These are the types of things that kind of justify us being in [the Capitol].  We saw that there was this terrible issue where this minor who committed crimes that did not result in anybody being physically harmed, did not result in anyone being murdered, he’s locked away basically for the rest of his life and taxpayers are the ones paying for him to be there,” said Schroer.

      Schroer took up Bostic’s case in 2019, and then last year with his support, Kansas City representative Mark Sharp (D) sponsored the amendment to Senate Bill 26 that led to Bostic getting a parole hearing.

      “I’m just so happy, really on cloud nine that this decision came through the way it did.  It just shows that we can have some positive impacts here in the legislature.  Even if it only affects one person that’s good enough for me.  You hope it affects more and helps more people but this legislation did exactly what it was intended to do, and that was help Mr. Bobby Bostic.”

      Soon after hearing about Bostic’s case, Schroer met with him at Jefferson City Correctional Center.  He learned that while imprisoned Bostic has earned a GED, an associate’s degree, has completed courses from Adams State University and Missouri State University, and completed more than 30 rehabilitation classes and programs.  He has helped other inmates pursue their education, and has become a published author. 

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It was after that meeting that Schroer began pressing for Bostic to have a chance at parole. 

      “I was amazed at all of the things that he had done, the rehabilitation that took place with him within our criminal justice system and it was one of my tasks to ensure that he was either granted clemency by the governor or that we could get a coalition together, get some sort of legislative fix to this issue,” said Schroer.

      That began with a letter to Governor Mike Parson (R) asking him to take executive action on Bostic’s case.  More than 100 legislators in both parties and both chambers signed that letter.

      Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison on a series of charges stemming from a 1995 incident in which he, then 16, and an 18 year-old robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  One victim was shot and sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman. 

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes opposed him being given a chance at parole.  Some testified that he had little involvement in the crimes and that the 18 year-old was the instigator.  While Bostic received more than two centuries in prison, the accomplice pleaded guilty in exchange for a 30-year sentence.   

Retired Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker, who handed down Bostic’s sentence, has become one of the most ardent supporters of his parole and represented him at the hearing.

      Bostic is not expected to be released until late next year.  Sharp said he will spend much of the time until then preparing to return to freedom after 20 years behind bars.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Now the hard work really begins for Bobby Bostic.  How do we get him back into civilization?  How do we get him a job?  How do we get him back on his feet?  Just being released really isn’t enough, so we have to make sure that he has all the tools so he can be successful upon his release,” said Sharp.

      Roughly 100 others in Missouri’s prison system could have a chance at parole under the language that helped Bostic.  Schroer said for those and others getting out of prison, there are people throughout the state who want to help them start over.

      “If anybody is willing, and I know that there are several employers in St. Charles County and around the area that have taken an interest in [Bobby Bostic’s] case and many others like him, who are hiring people fresh out of the criminal justice system that want to turn their lives around, so any of the readers that are grouped in there, that do have opportunities for people with a criminal record, I urge them to reach out to [lawmakers] so we can at least put them in contact with people like Bobby.”

      Other portions of Senate Bill 26 have led to a court challenge that could see everything in it struck down.  Sharp and Schroer say they aren’t sure what it would mean for Bostic’s case should that happen, but say they will be watching developments and remain committed to helping Bostic get a chance at freedom.

Columbia man: law giving felons more job opportunities is making a difference for him

      Missourians with felony convictions are no longer blocked from working in places that sell lottery tickets, and face less restriction in working where alcohol is sold, under a law that took effect over the summer.  Advocates say the change is a “game changer” for people who get out of prison and want to get their lives back on track.

Henry Mikel and Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch, recently had the chance to meet and talk about her legislation, which allowed him to have his current job.

      Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored the legislation for several sessions.  It became law as a provision in Senate Bill 26, signed into law in July. She recently got to talk to some people who are taking advantage of the change.

      “I’m just thrilled.  I mean, I’m so happy, because it’s all about helping your fellow man to succeed,” said Toalson Reisch.

      One man with whom Toalson Reisch met was Henry Mikel of Columbia, who says it’s making a difference in his life.     

      “It’s very hard to get a job, man, when you’re a felon, so it’s going to help out a lot for the people that do want to change when they do get out of prison, or the people that are on probation that has committed a felony,” said Mikel. 

      Mikel is open about his past, which includes a 2nd degree assault charge, and that he is recovering from drug addiction.  He is staying at in2Action, a program that helps those released from prison transition back into life and stay out of prison.  He recently began working at a convenience store close to the facility.  It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten just a few months ago because the store sells lottery tickets.

      He thinks the new law is making a big difference for him, and will do so for others in similar circumstances.

      “I believe it’s going to help out a lot, man, because not everybody wants to stay in trouble and not everybody wants to stay in the system as a felon.  People do want to change,” said Mikel.

      He became emotional in expressing gratitude that the law passed.  He said with the holidays approaching it will allow him to do something for his two young adult children.

      “I’ll tell you, to have a job and be able to do something for my kids, man, it’s a blessing.  Being a drug addict and an alcoholic most of my life, my kids missed out on a lot, man, and I feel like a big piece of s**t over that.  Now that I’ve turned my life around, I have a relationship with my kids, I can call my kids, I can go see my kids any time.  It does help out a lot, man.  It helps out a lot.”

      Mikel expressed thanks not only to Representative Toalson Reisch, but to all the legislators who voted for her proposal, and to Governor Mike Parson (R) for signing it into law.

      “It does feel good that there are people out there that really care,” said Mikel. 

“Being an addict I can tell you one thing … not everybody wants to be an addict.  Once you become an addict … the main thing that goes through an addict’s head is, ‘How can I change?’”  Mikel said.  “I understand that a person has to want to change, truly, and they have to show it, but it’s hard to show it when you don’t have people that wants to back it up, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are giving people a chance and that wants to help people that want to help their self.”

      Some would dismiss or even look down on a job such as working at a convenience store, but advocates agree it is a big deal for someone in a position like Mikel’s.  He adds that he genuinely enjoys working there, and even as a child he thought it could be a fun job.

      “You see just different personalities.  I’m the type of guy that I want to help a lot of people.  I want to help the people that are weak and the people that are addicts, I want to help people in their faith, so I believe this job’s going to help me in my dream because it helps me read people and it helps me figure people out more.  I’m using it to my advantage.”

      Toalson Reisch had the opportunity to meet Mikel for the first time just a few days ago, at an in2Action Christmas Dinner. 

      “We just hit it off, and he thanked me for giving him the opportunity.  He loves his job,” said Toalson Reisch.  “When I see these success stories, like Henry, that it’s making a real impact on real people in their lives, it just gives me hope.”

      The last time Toalson Reisch’s proposal came to a vote on the House floor the vote in favor of it was 148-1. 

Earlier story: New Law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

Lawmaker to continue focus on domestic violence issues

      A lawmaker with decades of experience in law enforcement plans to file more legislation meant to help victims of domestic violence in ways he wished he could have during his career. 

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) said in his career, including as Joplin’s Police Chief, he was often frustrated at seeing how abusers used the court system to continue to intimidate and persecute victims.

      “What you’re looking at is … my efforts to remedy things that I’ve seen go wrong, things that I believe have been wrong, and to do it in a way that doesn’t undermine the intent of a fair and due process,” said Roberts. 

      “Over the years I found myself dealing with a number of different circumstances wherein I truly thought the right thing to do in protecting the victim, frankly, was not provided for in law.  So I wound up having to explain to victims why I couldn’t do the things that the victim and I both knew were in their best interest.  I watched abusers and, in some cases, their representatives twist, manipulate, take advantage of loopholes, doing things that I think the law provided for but not by intent,” said Roberts.  “It was a result of trying to ensure that we treated both sides of the discussion fairly.  Someone who’s been accused of a crime is innocent until they’re proven guilty, so we do need to make that acknowledgement.  We do need to make sure that they receive due process.  But, if the end result is the other side of that equation is abused or treated unfairly, that doesn’t make any sense.  There’s no balance there.”

      Jennifer Carter Dochler with the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence says the issues the bill would address are ones seen time and time again in cases throughout Missouri.

      “Individuals who are abusive are very good at finding any loophole in the protections that we’ve helped establish.  This bill is absolutely trying to address multiple loopholes that have been identified that prevent the court from doing their best at protecting victims.”

      Roberts proposes specifying that when a person receives notice from a court that a hearing will be held on an order of protection against them, that serves as notification of any orders the court issues on the date of that hearing.  He said this is because often a person who is the subject of an order of protection will violate it, then say in their defense that they didn’t attend the hearing and therefore didn’t know the order had been put in place.  He said this amounts to pleading ignorance, and case law has supported this defense.

      “What I’m trying to do is remove the ambiguity.  You know you’ve been charged.  You’ve been made aware of the hearing.  I think the presumption needs to be the person did, in fact, get notified, not accept the presumption that they didn’t,” said Roberts.

      Carter Dochler said by the time an order of protection hearing is held, a victim has, “already asked the court for safety, and so let’s try to reduce a burden that we have continued to hear, over the years, creates safety issues.”

      Another provision would allow victims to testify in court via video conferencing.  Carter Dochler said in addition to victims having to make time to go to court over and over, each time having to incur costs for things like travel and childcare, there are many safety concerns for them when testifying in court.  Allowing them to provide testimony over video would be a simple fix.

      “Their abusive partner is going to know exactly when they’re going to be there, what time.  Although some courts try to put safety precautions in place … there’s still a safety risk for someone parking, walking into the courthouse, having to wait, how they’re going to leave,” said Carter Dochler.

      Roberts called the video conferencing language one of the pieces of the bill he’s the most committed to, because he’s seen that victims can often be reluctant to testify.

      “It’s difficult to describe, for those of us who’ve never experienced it, what it must be like to be the victim of repeated, and in some cases, vile abuse, to have to sit in the same room with [the person responsible] and have their lawyer pick you apart or have them staring at you with the intent of intimidating you,” said Roberts.  “How many people don’t show up to court because they don’t want to experience that?  How much fear does that create in the mind of somebody who maybe had it in mind that they were going to go forward and then it comes down to the reality of facing somebody in the same room?”

      The bill would also specify that victims and their witnesses don’t have to reveal home or workplace addresses when testifying in court, unless the court deems it necessary.

      “In many cases abusers and wrongdoers will continue to do things that are abusive and wrong for the purpose of advancing their interests in court, and that includes intimidating, threatening, or physically harming witnesses and victims,” said Roberts.  “What we’re really talking about here is giving them some level of comfort that people won’t know where to find them if they step up and do the right thing.”

      A provision the Coalition specifically wanted would clarify that a court can order payment of attorney fees incurred by a victim before, throughout, and after a proceeding.  Carter Dochler said because the current statute includes the word, “or,” an attorney successfully argued in one case that the abuser wouldn’t have to cover fees for all of those time periods.

      “This is another instance where grammar does matter,” said Carter Dochler.  “The intention has always been that somebody could request the respondent to cover reasonable court fees … we’re taking this opportunity to clarify what the intention was.”

      Roberts said based on the response he’s gotten from advocates, he already plans to change some of the language he’s prepared.  In particular, he expects to amend a provision that would bar prosecutors from offering plea bargains to defendants facing certain levels of domestic violence charges. 

      “Maybe we overshot on that,” said Roberts. 

      Other pieces of this bill would require anyone convicted of domestic violence to pay $1,000 to a shelter in the same city or county as the victim; and require that when they are ordered to take a class on domestic violence, they must pay for it.

      In the 2021 session Roberts proposed other domestic violence statute changes that became law in June.  These allowed for orders of protection to be extended for up to a lifetime; covered pets under orders of protection; and expanded the definition of “stalking” to include the use of technology such as GPS and social media, or the use of third parties. 

      Roberts said those pieces of legislation drew something of a “fan following” in Missouri, and for good reason.

      “Many people understand that domestic violence is a real part of everyday life for some people, and hopefully folks have begun to realize that those of us who’ve never been in those situations really cannot understand how horrible it is to live in constant fear, and in the home that’s supposed to be your haven and your safe place,” said Roberts.  “I’ve just seen it for the better part of five decades and the things that we’re talking about here are those kind of individual elements that I feel I can do to maybe remedy some of that.”

      Carter Dochler said the Coalition is grateful for Roberts’ focus on these issues.

      “Representative Roberts is doing an amazing job listening directly from constituents in his community about the barriers they’re experiencing.  He’s also taking his prior law enforcement career and barriers he experienced and he’s trying to address those things, and he’s to be commended,” said Carter Dochler.

      Roberts plans to file this legislation on or after December 1, when prefiling of bills for the 2022 session begins.

New law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

      An advocate says a new law that began as a Missouri House bill is a “game changer” for people trying to establish new lives after felony convictions.   

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The legislation eliminated a prohibition on those with felony convictions working in places which sell lottery tickets.  It also lifted the requirement that businesses who sell alcohol report to the state when they hire someone with a felony.  The changes have been sponsored for several years by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch, and was signed into law this summer and took effect August 28.

      She said it’s about worker freedom.

      “If an employer wants to hire a felon, why should the State of Missouri tell them, ‘No?’”

      Dan Hanneken is the Executive Director of In2Action, a program that helps people transition out of prison.  He says the most important factor in a convicted felon not returning to prison is their ability to find employment.

      “This particular bill might only effect maybe ten percent of the people that we serve, but the level of impact it will make on the ten percent of people will be a complete game-changer for them when they can re-enter the workforce,” said Hannekan.

      “What we want is felons … to work.  We need them to be self-supporting and we need them to support their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “They want to work, and this gives them more opportunities to go out and get entry-level jobs, work their way up, give them experience, put work on a resume.”

      The proposal, filed by Toalson Reisch as House Bill 316, was amended to Senate Bill 26, which was passed and signed by Governor Mike Parson (R). 

      She said this bill benefit not only her home county of Boone, which she said consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, but the entire state.

      “Most everywhere sells lottery tickets or alcohol, whether it’s a restaurant, a grocery store, convenience store; most anyplace you walk into will have one or both of those items, and that shouldn’t hold people back who want to work, who want to have a job and earn a living.  They’ve served their debt to society.”

      The legislation had broad support, and was viewed as helping fight recidivism and unemployment while supporting criminal justice reform and helping the economy by boosting the eligible workforce.  The House voted 148-1 for the 2020 version of the bill.

      Hanneken said the law before this change was very frustrating for the people he works with, who often want to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and simply have a path forward after prison.

      “When people are released from prison and they’re told, ‘No, you cannot even work at a convenience store,’ that was incredibly defeating for them,” said Hanneken.   

      Toalson Reisch said the reporting requirement for businesses that sell liquor was, in practice, a pointless exercise for those employers, who had to fill out a form that wasn’t used for anything.

      “All they did was send it in and I was literally told the state did nothing with this form.  They literally threw it in a file cabinet and did nothing with it, and so it was just nonsensical and had no purpose,” said Toalson Reisch.

      The bill also had broad support from groups including Empower Missouri and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association.

Pronunciations:

Cheri Toalson Reisch = shuh-REE TOLE-sun RYSH

House language will allow chance at parole for Bostic, others sentenced as juveniles to long terms

      A House amendment that will give some juvenile offenders in Missouri a chance at parole will become effective later this month.  The provision was driven by the case of a man sentenced to 241 years in prison when he was 16.

Bobby Bostic

      The amendment was signed into law as part of Senate Bill 26.  It would make anyone sentenced while a juvenile eligible for parole after serving 15 years of any sentence.  It doesn’t apply to convictions for first-degree or capital murder.

      Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) sponsored the amendment, which he stresses does not automatically grant freedom to any offender.

      “Ultimately it falls into the hands of the Parole Board.  It’s up to their discretion.  Every juvenile that’s in the system currently has a different criteria they have to meet obviously.  I think it’s our duty to trust the Parole Board to do their job, and if anybody can be rehabilitated I do believe that we should put that faith into our youth.  I trust them far more than someone else to be rehabilitated in the correctional facilities,” said Sharp.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo credit: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Sharp and numerous other lawmakers in both parties think Bobby Bostic has been rehabilitated.  In 1995, Bostic and an accomplice robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  He shot one victim, who sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman.  He was sentenced for 18 crimes and would not be eligible for parole until the age of 112.

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes oppose him being given a chance at parole.  The judge who sentenced him said that sentence was disproportionately harsh, and she favors giving him a chance at freedom.  

      O’Fallon Republican representative Nick Schroer has been among the leaders of the effort to help Bostic.  He and others say that is because Bostic has clearly reformed.

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo credit: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “He’s done so much while he’s been behind bars,” said Schroer.  “Getting rehabilitated to the point of taking it upon himself paying for different college classes, getting several different degrees, writing many books, and trying to work with communities in need within our state so juveniles that might have been on the same path he was won’t make that same decision … I believe that is what we can all agree our criminal justice system is there for.”

      Sharp said it felt meaningful to pass this legislation, especially knowing that there are more than 100 more people in Missouri’s correctional facilities in similar situations.

      “This provision just allows them to be eligible for parole, and I think that for a lot of these folks including Mr. Bobby Bostic, just being eligible will go a long way,” said Sharp.

      The language becomes effective on August 28.

House votes to allow felons to work in places that sell alcohol and lottery tickets

A House Bill that would remove the restriction on felons working in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets was sent Thursday to the Senate.  House Bill 1468 would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said the bill will not only make it easier for felons to find jobs, thus reducing recidivism; it will also make more workers available.  She said her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and more potential workers are needed.

“We need more people to fill these entry level positions and have a place to start, and this will also enable them to support themselves and their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “I like to use my local Casey’s General Store as an analogy.  You cannot make pizza and donuts in the back because they sell lottery tickets and alcohol in the front.”

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support.  Columbia Representative Kip Kendrick (D) said it is common sense legislation.

“These individuals who have paid their debt to society and are back out trying to make a living, we should be doing all that we can as a state to make sure that they are welcome back in their communities.  Part of welcoming back is ensuring them access to jobs and employment opportunities … to make sure that they are finding ways to make a living and reintegrate back into society,” said Kendrick.

Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan said the bill includes a provision that would prevent an individual from selling lottery tickets if convicted of a past crime that involved those.

“[Toalson Reisch] has worked these particular business owners.  They’re very supportive of this for their own freedom to hire folks with a record and it’s something that is in line with a lot of the criminal justice reforms that we’ve supported that are pro-economic growth and pro-personal growth for these people,” said Dogan.

The legislation cleared the House 148-1.  Last year several amendments were added to the proposal and it failed to pass out of the House, but this version of the bill has no amendments.

Its supporters include the Missouri Petroleum Marketers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Empower Missouri, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

House Committee votes to let felons work where alcohol and lottery tickets are sold

A House committee has voted to allow felons in Missouri to work in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1468 would bar the state from prohibiting felons from selling alcohol only because they have been guilty of a felony, and from keeping someone convicted of a crime from selling lottery tickets.  It would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.

“I term this an employer freedom bill/criminal justice reform bill because it does two things:  it lessens the regulations and requirements on employers and it helps give prior felons a second chance,” said bill sponsor, Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville).

Toalson Reisch told the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at less than two percent, and employers struggle to find enough workers.

“We need to give these felons jobs so they do not recidivate,” said Toalson Reisch.  “You can go into Casey’s and they can’t even hire you as a prior felon to make donuts and pizza in the back because they sell lottery tickets in the front.”

ACLU Legislative and Policy Director Sara Baker said the legislation is, “an excellent step towards giving folks a chance at getting back on their feet after incarceration.”

“The biggest predictor of recidivism is if you can get a job or not when you’re out from incarceration, and so the more we can do to lower barriers to getting back to employment, the better chance we have for true criminal justice reform in this state,” said Baker.

Last year the proposal advanced well through the legislative process but became bogged down when it was attached to other legislation.  Toalson Reisch is optimistic about its chances of becoming law this year because it is being debated early in the session and because it continues to have broad, bipartisan support.  She hopes to keep the bill free of other language so it can stand on its own.

The committee voted unanimously to advance the bill.  If approved by a second committee it will be considered by the full House.