OPINION: Keeping the public in public safety
It took seconds for Gov. Kate Brown to sign a commutation order allowing 73 violent felons early release from prison. But her selling out of public safety will last for many years.
Among the crimes committed by the names on Brown's commutation are: sodomy, rape, sexual penetration, kidnapping, robbery, attempted murder, manslaughter, murder and aggravated murder.
Brown has granted more pardons and commutations than any governor in recent state history — roughly 1,200 — including those released only because of risk of getting COVID-19. (A pardon is total legal forgiveness, as if a crime never occurred.)
Brown is using her power to circumvent the will of Oregonians. Voters in Oregon, by a 64% margin, in 1994 required mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes. Sentences like five years for child molesters, eight years for rape, 10 years for manslaughter, 25 years for murder. In 2000, liberal activists tried to overturn the law and lost by a 73% margin.
As violent crime then dropped, legislators decided they wanted to redirect money into their pet projects. It seems many legislators just don't have the same fear of crime as their constituents. Reducing punishment is a gamble those with privileged ideological perspectives can take from their lofty view of the world below them where victims of violent crime often tend to be from lower socio-economic groups.
Liberals have nibbled away at sentences for various violent crimes for years. But last session, the Democratic supermajority forced through the most significant overhaul of the juvenile justice system in 25 years — without either of our votes as Democrats who still support accountability in criminal justice.
Thanks to Gov. Brown, House Speaker Kotek and Senate President Courtney, now even the most violent juveniles can avoid responsibility. A juvenile accused of murder or rape is no longer automatically tried in adult court where his name is made public. A judge now decides where a juvenile's case should be handled. This is a return to the bad old days when a kid "from a good home" who raped or killed could quietly be adjudicated behind closed doors in juvenile court, while a kid from a poor home could face real consequences for the same crime.
This legislation was orchestrated to cast juvenile offenders as victims. When it came up for public review, leadership discouraged descriptive testimony from actual crime victims. Instead, they focused on so-called experts who were invited to testify on the "brain science" behind dismantling the criminal justice system. A psychiatrist informed lawmakers that adulthood sometimes doesn't emerge until age 40. They presented a 26-year-old man, convicted as a juvenile of attempted murder, who referred to himself as a "school-to-prison pipeline victim."
Advocates say many violent juveniles age out of criminal behavior. What they fail to address is the impact on our public safety when violent felons are exempted from responsibility. Gov. Brown apparently wants us to see violent behavior as just another part of growing up.
Oregonians aren't just being conditioned to get used to crime, they are being groomed to accept criminal offenders as victims. Reformers like to ask, "You wouldn't want to be judged by the worst thing you've ever done, would you?" But that's the exact purpose of the criminal justice system.
Brown claims she is reforming the criminal justice system. She isn't. She's destroying it.
Brown tries to avoid blame by saying the final decision on the early release of these felons still lies with the Parole Board. But she's hiding behind the fact that she picks that board. And without her commutations, violent felons could not be seeking early release.
The depth of her cowardice was made more shameful when the governor announced her actions without informing victim's families first — forcing each of them to learn of the potential release of their tormentor from the TV news.
Cowardly. Disgraceful. Wrong.
It's telling that in the midst of an epidemic of violence in Oregon, the governor's response is to release more violent felons on the street. Liberals need to stop seeing accountability as the enemy. The rest of us must continue to fight to keep the public in public safety.
Rep. Jeff Barker, a former Portland police officer, retired after serving 18 years in the state House of Representatives. Sen. Betsy Johnson has served in the Oregon Legislature since 2001. She has announced she is running for Oregon governor in 2022.
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