Eliminating the Custody Status Point – wrong move at the wrong time

I attended the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (SGC) roundtable discussion yesterday and voiced opposition to the commission’s consideration of eliminating the Custody Status Point (CSP) from the sentencing guidelines. 

The CSP is used by judges to calculate criminal sentences in a more uniform and proportionate manner across the state.

The theory of the CSP is if someone commits a crime who is already on probation, parole, or in custody, that person should be held to a higher level of accountability than someone who isn’t under supervision. It’s been a long-held belief in Minnesota corrections, and it was acknowledged in the roundtable that most states also use some form of CSP when applying a new sentence to someone already under supervision.

In 2019 the SGC adjusted the CSP system by creating a new half point category for lesser offenses to add more proportionality — arguably a noble and reasonable adjustment.  However, for technical reasons the half point can’t be accounted for in the current guidelines chart, and by rule it has simply rounded down, making is worthless.

Instead of fixing the technical issue that the SGC created itself, the SGC has used the opportunity to debate reducing the application of the CSP or even eliminating it all together.

This is the wrong move at the wrong time.

Minnesota has experienced an unprecedented rise in crime since 2018, with violent crimes increasing an incredible 49%. At the same time our prison population has decreased by 30%. Minnesota currently ranks 48 of 50 with the 3rd lowest rate of incarceration in the U.S.  Our rate stands at 132/100,000, while the national average is 303/100,000.

The last thing our correctional leaders and the SGC should be considering at this time is further weakening the likelihood of repeat offenders staying behind bars. 

Public comments at the end of the meeting were unanimous in their condemnation of the SGC’s consideration of such a move. It was clear listening to the passionate callers, most whom identified as crime victims, that many members of the SGC are out of touch with the fatigue the public is feeling towards crime — and more specifically towards our criminal justice system’s failure to place victims above criminals.

The statutes and the SGC’s own Statement of Purpose and Principle is clear: “The commission’s primary consideration shall be public safety.” Any move on the SGC’s part to further erode or eliminate the Custody Status Point from the sentencing guidelines is absolutely counter to its statutory and policy mandates.

NOTE:  If you find this issue compelling, consider attending the SGC’s next meeting on Thursday 7/28. There will be a public comment session at that meeting as well.  Follow this link for meeting updates.

For more information on yesterday’s roundtable, check out this news report from the Duluth News Tribune.

Update: If you want to watch some of my comments from the roundtable, check out some of the videos below.