A statement to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission

On Thursday, 11/3/22, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) met for its November meeting. Learn more about the MSGC here.

The MSGC, being largely a gubernatorially appointed body, has significant influence over the direction our state takes in holding offenders accountable. Minnesota has been doing a poor job of that as of late. 

Since 2018 we have experienced an unacceptable rise in crime, while at the same time the policies and practices of our courts and correctional officials have inexplicably led to a dramatic decrease in our rate of incarceration.   

Incapacitation of offenders offers a foundation for all other public safety efforts to succeed. Minnesota officials are failing to provide this foundation, and we are collectively paying the price. 

Law abiding citizens deserve better. 

I attended the Sentencing Guidelines Commission meeting to share this sentiment with the commissioners. The statement I made during the public comment session is reprinted below. (Note: the MSGC meetings are routinely video recorded, but yesterday’s meeting was not due to technical issues).

If criminal justice issues and Minnesota’s efforts to hold offenders accountable are important to you, consider monitoring the work of the MSGC and attending their meetings to make your voice heard. More information on upcoming meetings, issues under consideration, and ways to attend in person or virtually can be found here

The gubernatorial appointees serve terms that are coterminous with the governor. Tuesday’s elections have will have significant implications on how Minnesota deals with crime and offender accountability going forward. 

The MSGC leadership under the Walz administration has shown far more concern for the impact of sentencing on offenders than the impact of crime on law-abiding citizens.


Statement of David Zimmer, Public Safety Policy Fellow, Center of the American Experiment

I appreciate the opportunity to address the commission.

My name is David Zimmer. I am a retired Sheriff’s Captain with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office having served in law enforcement for over 33 years. I currently serve as a policy fellow with Center of the American Experiment, focusing on public safety issues. 

I offer these comments in that capacity.

The statutory direction of this commission is clear: 

“In establishing and modifying the Sentencing Guidelines, the primary consideration of the commission shall be public safety.” (MSS 244.09)

Arguably, the work of the current commission has too often failed to maintain public safety as its primary consideration. I don’t say that with malice or to suggest the commission has intentionally set out to harm public safety. But good intentions alone don’t equate to good public safety policy. This commission has failed to make clear in its work that it values the impact of crime on law-abiding citizens more than it values the impact of sentences on offenders.

In the mid-1990’s Minnesota experienced a significant rise in crime — leading to our designation by the NY Times as “Murderapolis.” Back then the criminal justice system responded resolutely, with the backing of our political leadership to quash the violence. I was part of it, working in drug and violent crime TF’s and with Minneapolis Police Homicide Unit. This proactive, tough-on-crime response had a positive effect. For nearly 22 consecutive years Minnesota experienced a reduction in serious crimes known as Part 1 crimes, dropping nearly 50% over those 22 years.  

Then in 2018, well before COVID or George Floyd, and more importantly well before the national rise in crime which began in 2020, Minnesota began seeing the rise in crime that has overtaken our state. For the first time in history, in 2020 we surpassed the national average in Part 1 crimes.

Since 2018 Minnesota has seen a 36% increase in violent crime. During the same period, our state prison system has reported a 21.5% decrease in incarceration. Also during this time, our judges have set three consecutive records for downward dispositional departures from presumptive prison commitments. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr recently wrote a commentary for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Rising Crime Rates are a Policy Choice.” In it, Barr described clearly how reform-minded policies of the 1960s turned state justice systems into “revolving doors.” The violent crime rate went from 160/100,000 in 1960 to 758/100,000 in 1991. In response, the Bush and Clinton administrations targeted violent crime through “tough on crime” policies that valued incapacitating criminals through incarceration. By 2014 the crime rate had been cut by 50% — precisely because the offender cohort had been incapacitated.

When crime spikes, as it has in Minnesota since 2018, law-abiding citizens deserve protection promptly, not over decades as we debate root causes and disparities.

Barr ended his piece with this

“The very purpose of government is to secure a peaceful society — making life safe for law-abiding citizens by protecting them from violent predators. Progressive politicians are doing the opposite, blighting the lives of the law abiding with their warped solicitude for the criminal few….it’s time for a return to sanity.”

I urge this commission to keep these sentiments in mind as you debate and propose modifications to the sentencing guidelines going forward.

Thank you