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Horowitz: Red-state jailbreak: Utah faces fugitive parole crisis with violent criminals released early

Op-ed
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The one-sided leniencies for criminals and disregard for victims of crime are often associated with the politics of California and New York. Unfortunately, many red states have adopted this twisted version of criminal justice "reform," originally catalyzed by Utah. Now a new murder arrest of a violent career criminal out on parole, in conjunction with a new report about the broken parole system, sheds new light on Utah's much-vaunted effort to keep criminals out of jail and on the streets, an agenda that has been pushed nationally by Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

On Saturday, 31-year-old Terence Trent Vos is accused of crashing his car on I-80 and fleeing the scene. The dead body of his girlfriend was found by police in his car, and they believe he murdered her. As always, the first thought that comes to mind is: Could this murder have been avoided? Was this a first-time offender? As KUTV-TV reports, Trent Vos is a Bloods gang member with numerous arrests including for a drive-by shooting, prohibited possession of a firearm, drugs, obstruction of justice, and aggravated assault. As early as 2006, he was accused of firing his gun on a highway.

Not surprisingly, violent gang members don't tend to reform their behavior. Despite all these arrests, Vos doesn't appear to have served much time and was recently out on parole. Despite being wanted in 2015 for several drive-by shootings, he has cycled in and out of the system and remained free on parole. After being convicted of unlawful possession of a weapon in 2019, he was paroled in 2020. A warrant was issued for his arrest this February, but like most violent felons on parole, he became a fugitive, and the parole board appears to have lost track of him until the murder.

The case of Vos is not an aberration. Ever since Utah championed jailbreak legislation to place more people on parole, violent criminals have been getting away with more violent crimes and are not re-incarcerated for violating parole. Moreover, a new masterful investigative report by KUTV reveals a troubling pattern of the parole board losing track of violent felons and trying to cover it up.

Reporter Wendy Halloran found that Utah Adult Probation and Parole has lost track of and could not account for 328 parolees statewide each month. Thus "killers, sex offenders, violent gang members from every street gang, and some of the worst of the worst remain unknown." There has been a 72% increase in parole absconders since 2015, which is not surprising, because in 2015, Utah passed a law downgrading a bunch of crimes and shortening sentences. This placed more people on parole rather than in prison.

The public was of course promised that the leniencies were only targeting first-time, nonviolent offenders, but in reality, as I noted at the time, the prison population is not driven by low-level offenders. Thus, as has been proven in every state, these jailbreak initiatives let out violent criminals who are often caught after their release for drug or weapons charges or parole violations, which are now viewed as low-level, without factoring in the criminal's past history.

KUTV reports that whistleblowers within the department reached out to KUTV, but officials from the department canceled interviews on three separate occasions. KUTV reports that there seems to be a systemic problem within the parole board leading the board to always favor keeping criminals out of prison:

Frustrated parole agents have risked their jobs to tell 2News what's really going on inside AP&P. Former agents claim they lost their police powers and were turned into social workers by supervisors who, more often than not, required them to give the parolee another chance instead of writing a warrant and sending it to the Board of Pardons and Parole in an effort to send them back to prison.

A video presentation used to train AP&P agents corroborates what the whistleblowers say. During a 2019 training seminar, presenter Dennis Franklin seems to imply exactly what the agents we spoke to complained about — AP&P wants agents to be more like social workers, as opposed to law enforcement.

I have been a lonely voice warning against the bipartisan jailbreak cartel. This was never about finding the few instances where the justice system is too strict and reforming them amid the exponentially greater numbers of cases where criminals were already given too much leeway. This was about cutting the prison population at all costs. Given that you can't cut the prison population with only low-level criminals, they had to let out high-level criminals. Given that most of them violate second and third chances, this was never about offering criminals second chances. It's about ensuring that violent parole violators remain out of jail.

Both violent crime and property crime have been surging in Salt Lake City. Last year, a career criminal was released from a halfway house under a new "low-level" leniency program and threatened a woman at knifepoint in her own bed just days later. In 2016, one year after passage of the much-vaunted Justice Reinvestment Act, a career criminal who was eligible for early parole under this program murdered a Salt Lake City cop. He had accrued a decade-long rap sheet of charges for drugs, firearms violations, and theft — the paradigm of a career criminal eligible for early release under the proposed federal legislation.

Now, just consider the fact that police have lost control of hundreds of criminals with similar profiles who used to be behind bars. Yet Utah RINOs have not learned their lesson. They continue to push for more jailbreak bills and even passed a New York-style bill in 2020 abolishing bail for many criminals, which turned out to be such a disaster that it had to be repealed this year.

The criminals have gotten a decade of their "reforms." Now it's time for victims of crime to get their decade of reforms so that Salt Lake City doesn't become like Portland.
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