Criminal Legal System

Volunteers Needed for CourtWatch

September 19, 2023

The Women’s Voices Criminal Legal System Reform Task Force is working to improve pretrial detention. Part of this effort involves observing bail hearings. Observers are needed to assist with this effort and can volunteer with CourtWatch, a collaborative extension of ongoing court monitoring efforts in St. Louis City’s 22nd Judicial Court.

CourtWatch is a program of the Freedom Community Center, which was founded after The Bail Project and works to improve our criminal legal system. In attending bail setting hearings, they aim to hold courts, judges, and prosecutors accountable to the law and to the people. The center collects demographic and anecdotal data to inform citizens about the inner workings of St. Louis’s pretrial process as a tactic to dismantle the criminal legal system. They produce monthly reports providing statistical data to track – in real time – how prosecutors are carrying out the circuit attorney’s legal responsibilities and campaign promises around use of cash bail in St. Louis in an effort to interrupt the violence of pretrial detention on all fronts!

If you are interested in learning more about the program, you can read the organization’s reports and data drops. Register here for training to volunteer with CourtWatch.

Criminal Legal System Reform Task Force Expands Focus to Learn About Pre-Trial Detention and Private Probation

May 1, 2023

Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice believes our federal and state criminal legal systems need major reform if we are ever to achieve unbiased criminal justice that does not discriminate against anyone because of race, religion, nationality, gender or sexual orientation. The Criminal Legal System Reform Task Force of the Racial Justice Committee is currently working on three areas of reform in Missouri: Clean Slate legislation, Privatized Probation System, and Pre-Trial Detention practices. Clean Slate legislation has been introduced and is under consideration in the Missouri State Legislature, and our efforts have moved into advocacy steps.

Our newest areas of study are Pre-Trial Detention, where we have learned that 80% of people in Missouri local jails have not been convicted and are held because they cannot afford the arbitrary bail set by individual courts; and Privatized Probation, a system of unregulated for-profit agencies used for individuals under supervision for misdemeanors. The private probation system traps people in a cycle of poverty and inequality when they cannot afford the unregulated costs imposed.

Please email co-chair Mary Schuman at to join us in our work to educate the public and advocate for criminal legal system reform in Missouri.

Women’s Voices Submits Testimony on MO Clean Slate Initiative (HB 352)

March 27, 2023

Criminal Legal System Reform Task Force co-chairs Anne Litwin and Mary Schuman submitted testimony to the MO House Judiciary Committee in support of HB 352.

HB 352 would establish an automatic record-clearing process for the closing of certain records not excluded from eligibility for expungement and would create the “Missouri Expungement Fund,” which would be dedicated to the creation, operation, and maintenance of the program. Read the full bill text here.

Members heard from speakers Phil Christofanelli, MO State Representative, District 104 and Jeff Smith, executive director, Missouri Workforce Housing Association about Missouri’s Clean Slate Initiative at the March 24 Lunch & Learn.

If you missed the program, you can watch the recorded Lunch & Learn: MO Clean Slate Initiative video here.

MO House Bill 352 was heard by the MO House Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 27.

Support passage of HB 352: 

Find a sample letter supporting HB 352 from Women’s Voices here. Feel free to copy and paste it as is or modify it and personalize it as much as you would like.

Learn more about the Missouri Clean Slate Campaign here.

A Criminal Record Need Not be a Life Sentence

February 1, 2023

Any criminal record, even an arrest that never led to a conviction, restricts access to jobs, housing, education and other basics. Of the 1.9 million Missourians who have criminal records, an estimated 518,000 are currently eligible to have certain nonviolent records expunged. However, the current petition process is expensive and complex, and only 1% of petitioners are successful each year.

Happily, there is a solution on the horizon, making this a perfect time to become involved with the Racial Justice Committee’s task force on Criminal Legal System Reform (CLSR). “Clean Slate” bills have been introduced in the Missouri House and Senate. Passage of these bills will make expungement of eligible, nonviolent convictions automatic once someone has remained crime free for a set time period, thus removing many of the life-long obstacles faced by formerly incarcerated people.

The CLSR task force has joined Empower Missouri and its coalition members in a campaign to pass a Clean Slate Act for Missouri. The CLSR task force will be accelerating its education and advocacy efforts on this issue, and we invite you to join us in those efforts. Participation in advocacy activities can be in any way you wish:

  • write letters to editors;
  • meet with, send or email letters to legislators;
  • help write an opinion editorial;
  • monitor implementation in other states;
  • suggest/facilitate presentations to groups.

And there is more! The task force is examining the problem of unsupervised for-profit probation agencies that charge the offender for required tests and programs; inability to pay risks reincarceration. The CLSR task force is also focusing on the injustice of pre-trial detention when a person, legally presumed innocent, is unable to pay even a low bail for minor, nonviolent misdemeanors. Detention for even a few days can have a devastating impact, especially on the poor.

To learn more about the CLSR task force and its system-reform priorities, contact

Facts About Clean Slate

December 2, 2022

One in three Missourians has a criminal record. Did you know? Any criminal record – even an arrest that never led to conviction – restricts access to jobs, housing, education and other basics. 518,000 Missourians are currently eligible to have certain non-violent records cleared, but only 1% are able to navigate the State’s current petition process due to expense and complexity.

What is Clean Slate?

A Clean Slate Act would make record-clearing automatic for eligible non-violent convictions once someone has remained crime-free for a set period of time. This would be done through an automated process.

Who Will Benefit from Clean Slate?

Who Will Benefit from Clean Slate?

  • Justice-involved individuals will be able to earn a decent living, obtain stable housing, and provide for their families.
  • Missouri’s courts and prosecutors’ offices will not be burdened with the costs of record-clearing petitions, saving taxpayer dollars.
  • Employers will be able to expand their workforce with people eager and able to work.
  • Missouri will save taxpayer dollars by bringing more people into the workforce and interrupting the cycle of recidivism and reincarceration.
  • Communities will be safer due to lower recidivism rates as more people are able to move on with their lives and provide for their families.
  • Communities will benefit because the stigma of a criminal record, which limits employment opportunities and access to housing, is a major driver of poverty and racial inequality.

What are Other States Doing and How is It Working?

  • Pennsylvania and Utah have implemented Clean Slate Acts; Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia, Colorado and California have passed legislation, but not fully implemented them; 10 other states, including Missouri, are taking steps with Clean Slate Initiatives. Clean Slate legislation will be introduced in the upcoming session of the Missouri Legislature.
  • When Utah implemented its automated Clean Slate Act on February 10, 2022, nearly 400,000 historical criminal records were cleared that day.  Pennsylvania has sealed more than 40 million records since the implementation of their automated Clean Slate Act in 2019. 
  • Nationally, 70% of Americans across both parties support Clean Slate policies, and Clean Slate Initiatives have had overwhelming support on both sides of the aisles in states that have passed them.
  • A Federal Clean Slate Act was passed on September 21, 2022, by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support.

Learn More:

Missouri Clean Slate Campaign

The Clean Slate Initiative

Task Force Works to Seal Nonviolent Criminal Records

September 1, 2022

The Racial Justice Committee’s task force on Criminal Legal System Reform (CLSR), co-chaired by Anne Litwin and Mary Schuman, has been researching the obstacles faced by formerly incarcerated people when they return to their communities. Having a criminal record creates ongoing obstacles to employment, housing, education and family well-being. Many types of nonviolent criminal records are already eligible to be sealed in Missouri, but the current petition process is expensive and time intensive; only 1% of eligible individuals on average are able to complete the process. Clean Slate legislation, already passed in several states, streamlines the process with the help of technology, making record clearing of eligible, nonviolent convictions automatic once someone has remained crime free for a set period of time.

This bipartisan initiative has the potential to change the lives of thousands of Missourians, and we are excited to see this aggressive campaign by Empower Missouri and UMKC-Law to bring Missouri on board. The CLSR task force will be accelerating our education and advocacy efforts on this issue, including taking an active role in the Clean Slate campaign when appropriate.

For more information on the campaign, visit For information on the CLSR task force and its other system-reform priorities, contact Mary Schuman at or Anne Litwin.

Women’s Voices Address Passage of MO Senate Bill 600 (SB600)

July 7, 2020

Members of Women’s Voices are dismayed that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is signing SB600, a punitive, regressive crime bill that does absolutely nothing to further the cause of criminal justice reform. This bill will increase mandatory minimum sentences and the time that prisoners spend behind bars. It could add another 2,500 prisoners in the next 20 years, which will mean that Missouri will need more prisons.

More prisons do not result in less crime. We need thoughtful, intelligent solutions to improve public safety by funding improved education, health care, housing, and social services for those who are living in impoverished communities.

Already devastated communities, especially Black communities, will be further damaged by this unnecessary and hurtful legislation. Missouri lawmakers need to find a better way to serve their constituents.

Racial Justice Co-Chairs Urge Veto of SB600

July 4, 2020

Barbara Finch and Jenny Birgé write in the St. Louis American that we do not need more minimum mandatory sentencing! Read their letter here.

Ask Gov. Parson to veto SB600 – 573-751-3222

Women’s Voices Urges Gov. Parson to Veto SB600

June 30, 2020

Women’s Voices co-president, Ruth Ehresman, submitted a letter on behalf of Women’s Voices urging MO Gov. Parson to veto SB600. Read the letter here.

Close the Workhouse Campaign Claims Victory

June 30, 2020

Women’s Voices has called for closing the St. Louis medium security prison, “the workhouse”. It is reported that the Board of Aldermen may take action on the issue.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed will file a pair of board bills that would close St. Louis’ Medium Security Institute, also know as “The Workhouse”, and redirect funds to crime reduction programs. The first bill calls for officials to immediately start assessing the potential cost of outsourcing housing of the people currently held at The Workhouse, determine possible new uses for the facility and land and develop a plan to close the facility no more than 150 days from the effective date of the bill. The bill would also create the Neighborhood Crime Reduction Fund. Money from that program that would be “allocated to neighborhoods with high violent crime” which Reed said would be administered by a participatory budgeting process, also known as a citizen budget. Policy experts say citizen budgets are when a group of citizens makes the spending decisions for a portion of a municipality’s budget.

read more here


Women’s Voices Addresses the Murder of George Floyd

May 27, 2020

George Floyd

It is with a combination of revulsion and outrage that members of Women’s Voices acknowledge the taking of another black life. The murder of George Floyd by four policemen in Minneapolis adds to the list of lives (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, etc.) brutally taken by those who are supposed to “protect and serve.” We are equally appalled by the self-styled vigilantes who stalk and murder innocent black men and boys (Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, etc).

People keep saying, “This has got to stop.” Indeed, it must stop. But it will not stop until our system of so-called “criminal justice” learns that a black life is every bit as valuable as a white life. It will not stop until young white men, armed with weapons of war, put down those weapons and learn that black lives matter.

These lives matter to us. We weep with our black brothers and sisters and re-commit our efforts to seek a better, fairer, most just society for all.



Women’s Voices joins Organizations to Urge State Leaders to Accommodate Re-entry

April 10, 2020

In a letter to Gov. Parson, and Missouri Department of Corrections Director, Anne L. Precythe, organizations outlined a funding avenue and recommendations to accommodate re-entry for persons exiting state prisons and local jails during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

1. Identify incarcerated persons who are 60 or older and/or immune compromised, who meet the requirements for compassionate release pursuant to RSMo 217.250 and grant release.
2. Identify persons currently incarcerated who are within one year of release from incarceration and immediately release those persons from incarceration, implementing house arrest, electronic monitoring, or other measures as necessary for the balance of the term of incarceration.
3. Identify persons currently incarcerated due to a technical violation and immediately release those persons from incarceration, implementing house arrest, electronic
monitoring, or other measures as necessary for the balance of the term of incarceration for the violation.
4. Halt all arrests and detentions for technical violations of probation or parole and suspend in-person meeting requirements.
5. Identify persons who have completed three years of supervision and transfer that person to administrative supervision or terminate supervision as appropriate. Suspend fines and fees for formal, informal, and administrative supervision.
6. Allow and encourage those with families and loved ones who can house them to return directly to their families, even if that housing is public housing, without requiring a stay in transitional housing. Use the Governor’s emergency powers to house people in available and vacant buildings that have kitchen facilities and other necessary infrastructure such as hotels, motels and college dorms.

Read the joint letter here.

Women’s Voices joins Statewide Organizations and Medical Professionals Call on the Missouri Supreme Court to Prevent a COVID-19 Public Health Crisis in Jails by Releasing People

March 26, 2020

From the press release distributed by ArchCity Defenders, “Due to growing concerns of the spread of the Coronavirus, particularly among people who are incarcerated, a coalition of over 30 organizations and medical professionals, sent a letter to the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, the Honorable George W. Draper III, outlining the need for decarceration, and requesting the Supreme Court act timely to order the release of people from jails statewide. The primary letter was enclosed with supporting documents, including a memo written by Dr. Fred Rottnek, Professor and Director of Community Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, which received broad endorsement from the medical and public health community.”

Citing the Supreme Court’s authority under Article V, Section 4 of the Missouri Constitution, signatories requested judges act immediately to release the following groups of inmates during the pendency of the COVID-19 pandemic:

(i) those currently serving sentences in any city or county jail in Missouri pursuant to a conviction for a misdemeanor offense;
(ii) those currently serving sentences in any city or county jail in Missouri pursuant to a conviction for a municipal ordinance violation;
(iii) those confined pretrial on nonviolent misdemeanor, municipal ordinance violation, or nonviolent C, D, and E felony charges;
(iv) those confined on technical probation violations or probation violations based on allegations of a nonviolent felony and
(v) those in high-risk categories likely to face serious illness or death, such as pregnant women, immunocompromised persons, and those over 60 who pose no threat to the public.

Read the full press release here.

Women’s Voices advocates for clemency for Patty Prewitt

December 14, 2019

Ruth Ehresman, co-president of Women’s Voices, submitted a letter to Gov. Mike Parson on behalf of Women’s Voices requesting clemency for Patty Prewitt.

Learn more about Patty’s case:

Feb. 2, 2019 St. Louis Post-Disptach by Editorial Board

Feb. 2, 2019 St. Louis Post-Dispatch by George Lombardi, former director of the Missouri Department of Corrections

Dec. 13, 2018 Kansas City Star Op-ed by Jane Prewitt Watkins, oldest daughter of Patty Prewitt

Dec. 26, 2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Op-ed by Tracy McCreery, MO State Representative, St. Louis

Dec. 30, 2010 St. Louis Post-Disptach Op-ed by John Burnett, MO State Representative, Kansas City and Bill Deeken, MO State Representative, Jefferson City

Learn more about how you can take action here.

Close the Workhouse finds allies in federal judge, Ben & Jerry’s

June 12, 2019

“[Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream,] and his massive team have gotten behind the local St. Louis advocates who are trying to close the Medium Security Institute, known as the Workhouse, that has long been decried for inhumane conditions.”

The same week that Ben & Jerry’s came to town to spread the message about the effort to Close the Workhouse, a federal judge handed down a decision that bars St. Louis jails from holding inmates simply because the cannot pay bail.

Read the article from The St. Louis American here.


Women’s Voices on the Death Penalty

Members of Women’s Voices voted unanimously in March 2007 to endorse a resolution calling for a moratorium on death penalty executions in the state of Missouri.