Criminal Justice Reform in Missouri


Missouri has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the country. Of its prison population, 37% are considered low-level, non-violent offenders and among these drug offenders are methamphetamine addicts, given Missouri’s acute methamphetamine problem. These offenders are not dangerous; they are sick.

One reason Missouri’s incarceration rate is so high is because of mandatory minimum laws that are still in place and prevent many offenders from seeking parole, regardless if they are non-violent or not. And in 2016, it was documented that 98 juveniles had life sentences without parole. The criminal justice system is not meant to penalize individuals for life; it should be in place to help individuals reform their ways so that they can eventually become productive, law-abiding members of society.

As a result of an overpopulated prison system, Missouri spent over $716 million on corrections in 2015, an alarmingly astronomical figure that indicates the criminal justice system needs to be fixed.


Missouri has taken some necessary steps to combat the high incarceration and recidivism rates:

  • Missouri passed a justice reinvestment bill in 2012 which creates a 13-member Sentencing and Corrections Oversight Commission to determine ways to reinvest any cost savings in recidivism reduction programs and research or restitution for crime victims.
  • Former Governor Greitens (R) signed an executive order in 2017, forming a bipartisan task force to develop policies that improve public safety, reduce corrections spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and reduce recidivism.
  • The Missouri legislature passed Raise the Age legislation in June of 2018 which changes the definition of adult to mean 18 and older, ensuring that juvenile offenders are not placed in prisons with adults.
  • In 2019, Missouri lawmakers passed legislation that exempts non-violent offenders from being made to serve up to 80 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.
  • In 2020, Missouri introduced a clean slate bill. If passed, it would remove barriers to occupational licenses for ex-offenders, which would help ex-offenders find a job after incarceration.


Missouri’s rehabilitation efforts have made progress: as of October 31, 2017, there were 147 treatment court programs with over 4,700 active participants. Additionally, the graduation rates of all programs have exceeded 61%. This statistic demonstrates the success rate of rehabilitation programs and provides hope for recidivism rates to drop. The changes in prisons in Missouri have been quite successful by saving the state from having to build another prison which would cost them up to $500 million. In July of 2017 Missouri’s prison count was roughly 34,000 inmates, and now the count in January of 2020 it is down to roughly 26,000. This was done by focusing on getting the non-violent inmates out of the prison to make room for those who really need to be in there. If the new 2020 “Fresh Start Act” is passed, it should help ex-offenders be able to find and keep a job after prison, and therefore avoid recidivating.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.