Harford not immune to statewide trends in increasing violent crime [Commentary]

Public safety is the primary obligation of government at all levels, and I’m honored to serve on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which reviews all proposed public safety laws. Unfortunately, as the many well-publicized crimes around our state attest, increases in violent crime continue to destroy and degrade lives across the state and undermine our economy. While Harford’s Sheriff and State’s Attorney Offices are incredibly effective crime fighting teams, our county is not immune from the devastating impacts of these statewide trends.

Governor Hogan has responded to these tragedies with a twofold approach in his legislation introduced in the ongoing 2018 session of the General Assembly. Through his annual budget, the governor is targeting specific populations with programs intended to lessen the terrible effects of the loss of the family structure – poverty, crime, drug addiction, gangs. The second prong of Governor Hogan’s crime fighting initiative addresses the ongoing devastation wrought by criminals roaming our streets. It includes a number of bills intended to increase prosecution of violent offenders. The bills provide for enhanced sentencing for repeat violent offenders, target gang participation, increase from 11 years to 25 years the amount of time that criminals sentenced to life imprisonment must actually serve before they are eligible to be paroled back into the community and make prisoners ineligible for parole when they have been previously convicted of a violent crime.

I sit on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which has spent many hours over the past month listening to testimony from supporters and opponents of the governor’s crime fighting package. The supporting testimony was mainly by crime victims and by police and prosecutors throughout Maryland, including Harford County State’s Attorney Joe Cassilly and Sheriff Jeff Gahler. They related a sorrowful litany of the horribly violent crimes committed by repeat offenders who had received lenient sentences for violent crimes or been paroled with little time served.

The primary opposition to the governor’s initiatives is from various advocacy groups who testified along three themes. First, they claim that enhanced sentencing will result in increased incarceration of minorities. Second, they believe that young offenders should be shown considerable leniency and not subjected to long periods of incarceration. Finally, they urge that our state’s limited resources be diverted to rehabilitation and not spent on incarceration.

I fully support Governor Hogan’s criminal justice initiatives. The statue of lady justice wears a blindfold as a symbol of our nation’s commitment to a system of justice that determines guilt or innocence based solely upon the evidence presented – not the accused’s appearance or background. While social programs can legitimately target specific disadvantaged demographics for special treatment, the criminal justice system is not a social program. “Equal justice for all” demands a criminal justice system dedicated solely to the determination of guilt or innocence.

Youthful offenders who commit juvenile offenses are afforded the considerable benefit of a juvenile justice system in which the only goal is rehabilitation; the adult criminal justice goals of punishment and removing violent offenders from the population are not part of the juvenile justice system. However, when juveniles commit seriously violent offenses that destroy other’s lives, they are properly subjected to the adult justice system where crimes are punished and criminals removed from the population. Pretending that violent crimes committed by juveniles are anything other than violent crimes enables a relatively small number of juvenile criminals to terrorize our schools and neighborhoods, seriously degrading or destroying the lives of the vast majority of law abiding citizens, especially in minority communities where a disproportionate amount of violent crime occurs.

Our state passed landmark legislation two years ago that eliminates or reduces prison sentences for many nonviolent drug offenses and redirects funds from incarceration to treatment. Some sought at that time to also apply these reduced prison sentences to violent offenders. The General Assembly wisely rejected those efforts. We are a compassionate society but our compassion belongs first to those whose lives are destroyed by the relatively small number of bad actors determined to repeatedly and remorselessly terrorize our state.

It is an honor to represent your interests in Annapolis. Please contact me any time at 410-841-3158 or at Bob.Cassilly@senate.state.md.us.

Bob Cassilly

State Senate

District 34 – Harford County

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