Note: This article has been updated to clarify that Attorney General Douglas Gansler, a gubernatorial candidate, has yet to release a crime plan.
With talk of the minimum wage, taxes and health care, one issue getting far too little attention in the General Assembly and gubernatorial race is the serious crime problem that our state faces. The city of Baltimore has had more than 30 homicides already this year and an murder rate as high as any major city in the country.
Despite his purported "tough on crime" reputation, Gov. Martin O'Malley has presided over the most profound rollback of Maryland law dealing with our state's most violent criminals — in some instances at his instigation, in some not. After years of effort, Governor O'Malley prevailed in his efforts to eliminate the state's death penalty, after imposing a de facto moratorium through administrative inaction.
Making matters worse, a decision by the state's highest court in 2013 led to the release of convicted murderers throughout the state, including more than a dozen in Baltimore alone. At the same time, we learned that a violent drug gang had taken over a city jail. Even so, the governor bragged during his State of the State address that Maryland's prison population had fallen to the lowest level in decades.
With the harshest penalty for the most violent offenders removed, is it not hard to understand why the streets of Baltimore remain as violent as any in the United States.
One might think that leading Maryland Democrats might reverse this trend and look to stiffen penalties for violent offenders. Just the opposite seems to be the case, however. While Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown has to defend the record of the O'Malley administration on violent crime, his primary opponents seem eager to double down on a liberal approach to crime that views incarceration and punishment as the problem and not a solution to crime.
Del. Heather Mizeur recently outlined a detailed crime fighting plan to combat what she views as "Maryland's strategy of mass incarceration." Delegate Mizeur's plan would eliminate mandatory penalties for even violent crimes. Delegate Mizeur would expand the state's current gun control regime. She would also seek to reduce crime by legalizing marijuana, increasing education spending and raising the state's minimum wage. This "holistic" approach to crime fighting is part and parcel of the liberal view that criminals are simply victims of society.
The state's chief law enforcement official, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, previously outlined a 10-point plan for ex-offenders to re-enter society, though he has yet to release a crime plan. The attorney general, also a candidate for governor, has expressed support for many of the same proposals that Delegate Mizeur supports, including expanded educational funding, a higher minimum wage and reduced penalties for certain drug offenses. He also has proposed including limiting public access to a convicted criminal's record and even giving current inmates tablet computers and Internet access.
Most Marylanders do not support this liberal view on crime. A 2013 Washington Post poll indicated that most Marylanders favor the death penalty. It is notable that Democratic leaders in the General Assembly opposed putting the repeal of the death penalty on the ballot.
Marylanders are justifiably concerned that more violent criminals remain on their streets and that even while behind bars they are able to continue their nefarious activities unabated. They share the view of many of our state's prosecutors, from both parties, who reject the ideas that there are too many people in prison or that reducing mandatory penalties for violent crimes will reduce the level of crime in our neighborhoods. Most Marylanders have the common sense view that the true victims of crime are those who obey the law and are under siege by violent criminals who terrorize their neighborhoods and not the criminals willing to murder, rape and rob their neighbors.
Delegate Mizeur stated "Maryland is ready for a governor who puts politics aside and focuses on progress." For Maryland citizens living with the consequences of violent crime and the failed policies in our state to combat it, the issue is not a political one. They are right to be concerned that they will not survive more "progress" like that we have seen during the last seven years.
Gregory Kline is a frequent contributor to Red Maryland, a conservative radio network and blog whose content appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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