Across America, citizens are up in arms about rising violent crime. In my own state of Minnesota, polls show that crime is voters’ number one concern. And when they say they want the governor to focus on violent crime, they don’t mean that they want him to encourage more of it.
But liberals are untroubled by factors like public opinion, not to mention constitutional duty. Minnesota has a Sentencing Guidelines Commission that sets presumptive sentences for all crimes. Left-wing governor Tim Walz has stacked the commission with 8 of its 11 members, mostly liberal activists. One member of the commission, for example, is herself an ex-con and has argued that criminals should not be imprisoned lest they be “re-traumatized.”
While no one was watching, leftists on the Sentencing Guidelines Commission came up with a proposal to make Minnesota’s already-lenient sentencing guidelines even worse. The guidelines are set up as a grid, with severity of the crime on one axis and the defendant’s criminal history on the other. The leftists proposed to eliminate the points awarded for “status”–i.e., being on probation or on parole, or having escaped from custody–as a criminal history factor. That would have the effect of lessening the sentences of a vast number of criminals, with sex offenders benefiting particularly.
With no public scrutiny, the Commission voted 6-4 to move forward with the proposed change. Then followed a public comment period. There would not have been any perceptible number of public comments, except that someone in my organization learned that softening of the guidelines was in the works. We immediately set up a web page where concerned citizens could email the Commission, opposing the proposed change in these terms:
Dear Sentencing Guidelines Commission:
I write to oppose the proposal to eliminate custody status points from consideration for felony sentences. This change will lower sentences across the board for convicted felons, especially sex offenders.
As the state deals with an unprecedented crime wave, the last thing we should be doing is letting violent offenders out of prison earlier. This proposal is contrary to the core mission of the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, protecting public safety.
The fact that someone is on probation or parole (or even escaped) when they commit another crime certainly should factor into their sentence. It’s only common sense. Please reject this one-size-fits-all solution that will make our state more dangerous.
In a few days, 3,800 Minnesotans filed such comments, using our page. Meanwhile, only 209 Minnesotans commented in favor of the proposal.
On Thursday, the Commission voted to postpone consideration of the proposed changes to the sentencing matrix. Leftists on the Commission were bitter, with some denouncing the thousands of comments they received from the public. Liberals resent the fact that when you have a public comment period, there is a risk that you might get comments from the public.
The Commission’s vote was the lead story on the Star Tribune web site. Governor Walz expressed regret that the change didn’t go through:
Last month, Walz said that he trusts the commission’s “vast swath of expertise.”
I guess being an ex-con gives you expertise of a sort.
“I think trying to tell Minnesotans that this [change] is somehow going to make them less safe is simply not true,” Walz said. “You can’t lock your way up and imprison your way out of some of these things, but you can be smart about making sure the most violent offenders are not out.”
Of course, the proposed change would have made it more likely that the most violent offenders, including murderers and especially rapists, would be “out.” But honesty is not valued on the left. Jeff Van Nest, a 20-year FBI agent who recently joined American Experiment as a policy fellow, was quoted in more reasonable fashion:
“Minnesotans will be safer today because the Sentencing Guidelines Commission backed away from this misguided policy change,” said Jeff Van Nest, a new policy fellow for public safety at the Center of the American Experiment think tank.
This story has, for now, a happy ending. But the Democrats in Minnesota have shown their hand. While voters want government to take effective action against crime, especially violent crime, Democrats want to move in the opposite direction, making already lenient policies even softer. I guess we will find out in November what the voters think of that.