The 2017 Missouri General Assembly session, which begins on Wednesday, could bring a number of changes to state issues, including sentencing guidelines for certain criminals.
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.
After working on the bill for the last few years, Higdon told 41 Action News that getting rid of mandatory sentences and “blanket punishments” could lead to fairer judgments.
“Each individual should be judged on his or her own actions,” explained Higdon, a former Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office deputy. “It should be up to the courts to say 'No, you need to stay' or 'Yes, you're eligible to be considered for probation or parole’."
While it is uncertain if getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences would drive down costs associated with the criminal justice system, Higdon said the change would likely lead to safer communities.
“I don't think you'd have to worry about someone kicking in that front door if those people have an alternative,” he explained. “To show them that people do care and we're willing to help them beyond the situation they're in, most likely crime rates will start going down."
Higdon’s bill has been met with support in the metro area.
Criminal defense attorney David Langston said after working with clients accused of crimes in the past, he has seen how long sentences behind bars could sometimes lead to more harm than good.
“At some point, prison just becomes punishment,” he explained. “The punishment may not serve the punishment that it's intended to serve by lengthier jail sentences."
Langston told 41 Action News that instead of focusing on jail or prison time, the state should get the convicted felon involved with educational or employment programs after letting them back into society.
“To put someone in there for longer than they need to be goes past punishment and it goes into eroding their life,” he said. “We should help them get off the addiction, become not addicted, and go back out into society and resume the life they had before they became addicted."
If passed, State Rep. Higdon said House Bill 38 would be applied to certain cases involving drug charges, and cases involving non-violent crimes, including small burglary.
The 2017 Missouri General Assembly session begins at noon on Wednesday.
Other issues expected to be taken up by lawmakers include ethics reform and making Missouri a “Right to Work” state.
Tom Dempsey can be reached at Tom.Dempsey@KSHB.com.