Disconnect: Walz appointees continue push to weaken felony sentences

The Sentencing Guidelines Commission met last week to consider eliminating what’s called custody status points from the sentencing grid for felons. The Commission heard hours of testimony after American Experiment and Republican members of the legislature raised the profile of this issue with press releases and calls to action.

The hearing exposed the glaring disconnect between soft-on-crime liberals, like Gov. Tim Walz, who favor weakening felony sentences, and almost everyone else in Minnesota who is desperately waiting for a crackdown on violent crime.

When asked about the proposed change, Walz picked the side of felons over victims, as reported in MPR:

“Trying to tell Minnesotans that this is somehow going to make them less safe is simply not true,” Walz said. “The sentencing commission is made up of a vast swath of expertise. So, I would expect them to make the right decision on that, to be smart about what it takes for Minnesota to keep Minnesotans safe.”

The testimony broke down into two camps.

The first was represented by testifiers frustrated with the high level of crime and lawlessness happening in our state right now. There was a sense of urgency in their testimony — they want order restored in Minnesota immediately and don’t understand why anyone in the current environment would consider lowering sentences for repeat felons.

The other camp appeared oblivious of the current situation in Minnesota and treated the issue like a philosophical discussion in a college criminal justice classroom. They talked mostly about the effects of long prison sentences on recidivism rates and the racial disparities in our justice system.

Those opposed to the change (citizens, crime victims, judges, prosecutors, Republicans) want to stop the madness and put the bad guys away to keep them off the street. They are less interested in the long-term rehabilitation of the criminal, and more interested in keeping him in prison longer because at least while he’s in prison, he can’t murder, rape, or carjack anyone else.

The other group (criminals, public defenders, Walz appointees and cabinet members, liberal pastors, intellectuals, Democrats) are blind to the crime happening in their neighborhood and stubbornly hanging on to racial equity arguments, repeatedly claiming that custody status points mostly affect low-level criminals.  

The meeting began with an admonition from the Chair about “personal attacks made against members of the Commission.” She’s no doubt talking about our post about Walz appointee Tonya Honsey, who has been widely discredited by liberal groups, yet remains a member of the Commission.

One exchange between Robert Small of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and Walz Cabinet member Paul Schnell summed up the hearing. After Small’s testimony against the proposal, Schnell asked him how removing custody points will affect public safety. Small answered with a real-life example of a recent felon released by Schnell’s Department of Corrections who immediately re-offended for the same crime. “[Under the proposal] he will not face an additional consequence because he was just released from prison, under supervision, and committed the same crime. That is what we are talking about public safety.”

Proponents of the policy relied on the talking point that eliminating custody status points won’t remove consequences for dangerous repeat offenders because judges and prosecutors still have the ability to sentence them to many years in prison. This would be reassuring if our current justice system wasn’t a revolving door for violent felons with judges and prosecutors regularly deviating from mandatory minimum sentences. Again, the Walz appointees to the Commission are blind to what’s happening in the state regarding violent crime.      

By the way, the revolving door of justice is the cover story for the January issue of Thinking Minnesota. If you are not getting this free quarterly magazine, click here to sign up.

Political issue for 2022

Republican legislators testified against the proposal, which is important considering where this goes next. The Sentencing Guidelines Commission will formally vote on the changes at their January meeting. The proposal becomes law next summer if the House and Senate do not both pass legislation to stop it. With Minnesota’s divided government, that means the Senate will likely oppose the measure, putting pressure on House Democrats to stand up for weaker sentences for violent felons during an election year with a brand-new redistricting map. The issue will also be added to the arsenal of attacks against Gov. Walz as Republicans paint him as weak on crime and responsible for the wave of lawlessness sweeping the state.

Here is a preview of those attacks from the Republicans who testified last week:

“Minnesotans are not asking you to do this. Most outrageously, this proposal provides the most benefit to sex offenders.”

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, Deputy Republican Leader in the House

“Now is not the time for criminal justice gone wild. I hope we’re not tone deaf about what’s happening in Minnesota. Crime is spreading to the suburbs. This proposal is going soft on crime. We call it probation for a reason – it’s a time period to test the felon to see if they have the fortitude to be crime free during that time.”

Sen. Warren Limmer, Chairman of the Senate Crime Prevention Committee and a former Corrections Officer

It’s not too late to send your comments to the Commission as they prepare for the January meeting.