It's not just in San Francisco and New York City that violent career criminals are being released en masse, only to commit more crimes. Republicans in Oklahoma and other states have bought into this "criminal justice reform" lie – that somehow our system is too tough on criminals, rather than too lenient by a mile. The deception of "low-level criminals" propelling last year's mass prison release in Oklahoma has now been laid bare by the case of Lawrence Paul Anderson.
Anderson is accused of killing his neighbor, Andrea Lynn Blankenship, 41, on February 12 in Chickasha, cutting out her heart, and cooking it with potatoes at his uncle's house. He then allegedly killed his uncle, injured his aunt, and killed the couple's 4-year-old granddaughter.
As soon as I saw the story, I figured that a person like that either had to be a career criminal released early from prison, a known criminally insane person who should have been known to law enforcement, or both.
Well, remember that mass commutation by Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) a little more than a year ago? On Nov. 4, Gov. Stitt commuted the sentences of 527 criminals, in the largest single prison release in U.S. history. To a cheering crowd, he bragged about "second chances" being offered to "low-level" offenders. This was part of a broad effort that has infected even the most conservative states – convincing the public that we have an over-incarceration problem, rather than an under-incarceration problem.
I warned at the time that crime had begun to skyrocket in Oklahoma as a result of several of these measures being implemented in a similar fashion to what was observed in San Francisco.
The people of Oklahoma deserve blame because they ultimately voted for State Question 780 in 2016, which downgraded drug and theft crimes across the board. Proponents spent over $4 million dollars with almost no opposition. But lawmakers followed up in 2018 by making those changes retroactive. They also teed up the ballot intuitive and misled the public about the nature of these crimes.
As I observed in my Nov. 22, 2019, column, "We are not locking up people for minor crimes, and even those locked up for so-called minor crimes are usually not incarcerated for that long — and it's usually because they had a longer rap sheet of violent crime and violated their parole with theft, drugs, or driving offenses."
When criminals are locked up for a while, with few exceptions, there is a reason. As Jason Hicks, the president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, warned, many criminals are barely serving time as it is. "A five-year sentence or even up to a 10-year sentence, those folks are serving a very, very small amount of time in DOC on a nonviolent crime," Hicks said at a 2019 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. "In fact, you're going to serve roughly 90 days on a 10-year or less nonviolent crime and, if you haven't done anything else, you're getting an ankle bracelet and getting sent back home."
Well, that brings us back to Anderson, who was released on Jan. 18 as part of this same parole program. As the AP reported: "Anderson had been sentenced in 2017 to 20 years in prison for probation violations on a drug case, the newspaper reported. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted the sentence last year to nine years in prison, and Anderson was released after serving a little more than three years."
The public has been convinced that the sort of people who get those sentences are low-level. Drugs and probation violations don't sound like a big deal. And they might not be for some people, most of whom will never serve time in jail anyway.
According to court records, he was charged in 2006 for attacking his girlfriend with a gun. In 2016, he was charged with felony possession of a firearm, and in 2017 with felony possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, bringing contraband into penal institution, molesting a motor vehicle, and possession of meth. When he was resentenced in 2017 for pointing a gun at a woman, he also told the judge he was taking medication for bipolar disorder. He fits the profile of someone who might be a career violent criminal or mentally ill. This was overlooked when he was released. He had a slew of other drug charges too. Those people tend not to be nonviolent.
Crime in Oklahoma and across the nation is skyrocketing precisely because we reversed the very policies that reduced crime. Since the bottom of the two-decade decline in homicide in 2014, the homicide rate was 34% higher in 2019, according to the FBI Uniform Crime statistics (table 6), and even higher in 2020. 2017, the year after the criminal justice "reforms" were passed, was the highest of all. The homicide rate in Oklahoma City rose 48% from 2014 to 2019.
The reality is that most people with multiple gun and drug charges are the most violent criminals in the country and will go on to commit other violent crimes if left undeterred. Kevin Stitt continued to push even more jailbreak because of coronavirus as well.
The governor, the legislature, and the people got this issue wrong five years ago. But now that we see the results of the jailbreak policies, it's time to revisit the definition of "low-level offenses." With Oklahoma experiencing an increase in theft and homelessness just like San Francisco, why will policymakers not re-examine their erroneous premises on criminal justice?
Kevin Stitt and other pro-criminal RINOs incessantly speak of "second chances." But very few criminals get locked up without having had endless chances, like Anderson. Moreover, "parole violations" are often for gun crimes, as was the case with Anderson. Yet in their rush to brag about releasing as many criminals as possible, they failed to analyze the profile and criminal history that led to the final incarcerations on their respective records.
Grady County District Attorney Jason Hicks is right that the legislature needs to shift its focus to protecting citizens, not criminals. "This has to be addressed by the Legislature, sooner rather than later, because more people are going to get killed," the prosecutor said. "We're seeing this all over the state. Repeat offenders go to prison. They're not there very long. And they come home and they're committing crimes just like this."'
As Hicks noted, at the time, the parole board was considering hundreds of cases in order to release as many people as possible. It's one thing to carefully comb through files to see if some people don't need to be incarcerated. However, any honest reform would have to simultaneously focus on all those violent criminals who should be locked up who aren't in prison, which are much more numerous. But this was never about proper reforms; this was always about de-incarceration at all costs.Maybe someday, Republicans and the phony "conservative" special interest groups will go back to focusing on victims of crime instead of criminals. Until then, red-state governors will continue to pursue the same dangerous and radical policies as the Soros prosecutor in San Francisco.