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ICYMI: Opinion: New mandatory minimums will not cure Missouri’s gang problems

Jul 1, 2020 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity-Missouri State Director Jeremy Cady, American Conservative Union General Counsel David Safavian, American Conservative Union Policy Analyst, Alyse Ullery| The Missouri Times

Missouri has the seventh-highest incarceration rate in the country – 56 percent higher than Kansas and 64 percent higher than Illinois. If incarceration rates were effective in lowering violent crime, Missouri would be one of the safest states in the nation. Unfortunately, it is not. Kansas’ violent crime rate is 12 percent lower than Missouri’s, while Illinois’ is 19 percent less.

Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity. Yet, that is what the Missouri Legislature did in passing the “Missouri Street Gangs Prevention Act.” It now sits on Governor Parson’s desk for signature; we urge him to veto this damaging bill.

Its purpose is clearly meant to target the most dangerous criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety. But the bill would easily be used to give longer sentences to people who aren’t really members of a street gang, and who don’t pose that kind of threat to the public.

The bill removes the requirement that people in a street gang share a common name or identifying symbol and removes the requirement that crime is the group’s primary motivation. The legislation makes almost any group of three or more people who have as any criminal motivation  “street gang.” This defies common sense.

The legislation also creates new sentencing enhancements and mandatory minimums, despite a large body of evidence showing that sentence lengths have little-to-no effect on crime deterrence or recidivism. In fact, studies show they have the opposite effect because they draw resources away from more effective crime control strategies, such as violent crime task forces, addiction treatment, and yes, more cops on the street.

Mandatory minimums can also have unjust results. They remove a judge’s ability to base decisions on the unique facts of each case. Mandatory minimums were designed to ensure everyone who committed similar crimes would get similar sentences. But in reality, they just shift power from judges to prosecutors, who can pick and choose who to charge with crimes carrying mandatory sentences.

Yes, the Missouri Street Gangs Prevention Act sounds good. But it will cost too much, do too little, and further exacerbate racial tensions. Now is not the time to continue this dangerous cycle of overcriminalization and mandatory minimums. Now is the time for reform.

Click here to read the full op-ed.