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Missouri justice advocates planning state tour on prison conditions and reform

The Missouri Eastern Correctional Center on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Pacific.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Eastern Correctional Center on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Pacific.

The Missouri Justice Coalition is about to launch its first town hall tour focusing on state prison conditions.

The organization said the stops across the state will include stories of formerly incarcerated people and relatives of those who are behind bars. They will discuss the need for better conditions at the 20 prisons run by the state.

Coalition founder and President ML Smith said many detainees experience civil rights violations and abuse, hampering rehabilitation efforts.

“How are they supposed to be better and come home better if their punishment should be going to prison and being abused, beaten and not given medical care?” Smith said. “How is that going to fix society?”

The nonprofit Missouri Prison Reform reported at least 105 people have died behind bars in the state so far this year. That compares to 134 in all of 2022. The organization attributed the numbers to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The deaths and rough conditions in the state’s prisons are prompting advocates to continue the reform push in Jefferson City.

Legislation calling for a prison oversight committee will be back next legislative session, along with a good-time credit proposal for inmates taking classes and other steps to improve their lives. An Informant Reform Act is likely to be proposed. It would deal with innocent people sentenced to prison after an informant did not tell the truth.

“We do have an epidemic of innocence and wrongful convictions in Missouri,” Smith said.

She added the town halls will be a chance for people to learn more about the proposals and other issues, especially Missouri residents who can’t make it to Jefferson City when the bills are up for debate.

The tour begins early next month and includes the following stops:

  • Springfield, Nov. 4
  • St. Joseph, Nov. 5
  • Kansas City, Nov. 11
  • Chillicothe, Nov. 12
  • St. Louis, Nov. 18
  • Charleston, Dec. 2
  • Rolla, Dec. 3
  • Columbia, Dec. 16
  • Hannibal, Dec. 17

Smith said people interested in attending one of the sessions are encouraged to register at mojustice.org

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Wayne Pratt is a veteran journalist who has made stops at radio stations, wire services and websites throughout North America. He comes to St. Louis Public Radio from Indianapolis, where he was assistant managing editor at Inside Indiana Business. Wayne also launched a local news operation at NPR member station WBAA in West Lafayette, Indiana, and spent time as a correspondent for a network of more than 800 stations. His career has included positions in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Toronto, Ontario and Phoenix, Arizona. Wayne grew up near Ottawa, Ontario and moved to the United States in the mid-90s on a dare. Soon after, he met his wife and has been in the U.S. ever since.