Former felon and a prosecuting attorney weigh in on MO bill reducing criminal sentences

Posted at 6:55 PM, Jan 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-03 19:55:46-05

A proposed bill for the 2017 Missouri General Assembly dealing with sentencing guidelines for criminals could have a big impact on criminal justice in the state, according to a former felon and a prosecuting attorney who both spoke to 41 Action News on Tuesday.

House Bill 38, sponsored by State Rep. Galen Higdon (R – District 11), aims to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences in criminal cases involving non-violent or minor crimes.

RELATED | MO bill could get rid of mandatory minimum sentences

Former felon Itoro Ekereuke, who is originally from Minnesota, was arrested in 2014 after being caught by KCMO police with several pounds of marijuana inside a suitcase.

Ekereuke told 41 Action News that during his time in jail, he experienced a harsh reality.

"It was a total overflow," he explained. "Sleeping on the floor. Sleeping on mats. It's pretty much one of the worst experiences I've ever had."

The former felon said while serving time behind bars, he often had to defend himself from other inmates. 

"In jail, you have to learn how to be violent," Ekereuke said. "I had two fights in jail."

After serving around 90 days behind bars, Ekereuke said a judge offered him a chance to leave.

Instead of being locked up in jail, the former felon would be able to take part in classes, therapy sessions, and community service events to help overcome his problems and get his life back on track.

More cases similar to Ekereuke's could come if lawmakers pass House Bill 38 this year.

If passed, Higdon said House Bill 38 would be applied to certain cases involving drug charges, and cases involving non-violent crimes, including small burglary.

By reducing sentences against criminals connected to non-violent cases, Higdon told 41 Action News that they could instead become involved in educational and employment programs.

On Tuesday, Ekereuke said spending excessive time behind bars could lead to more harm than good for criminals.

"If I would have had to spend two more years behind bars, I would have definitely been a much more hardened criminal when I came out," he said. 

House Bill 38 also received mixed support from Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.

Zahnd told 41 Action News that mandatory minimum sentences have led to proper justice in cases dealing with violent crimes.

"I think mandatory minimums are very important," he explained. "They do a good thing. They lock up the most violent criminals."

However, Zahnd said he supports possible changes to sentences in non-violent cases. 

The Prosecuting Attorney has spoken with Higdon and said any changes discussed by lawmakers should be carefully planned.

"I understand that Missouri has some significant problems and some of that is because of the result of our corrections system," he explained. "What we shouldn't do is throw the doors of our prisons wide open and release dangerous people out to our community."

The 2017 Missouri General Assembly session begins at noon on Wednesday.



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