Horowitz: ‘Decarceration’ has deadly consequences

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Jason Billingsley is the murderous new face of blue-city America. He also will also reflect public safety in every state if we don’t deal with the systemic “decarceration” crisis.

Billingsley, 32, had a lengthy criminal history in and around Baltimore. He pleaded guilty to first-degree assault in 2009 and second-degree assault in 2011, but barely spent any time behind bars. For the first offense, he served just two and a half months of a five-year sentence.

In 2013, Billingsley brutally beat, choked, and sexually assaulted a woman — a crime that likely would never have taken place had he been required to serve his earlier sentences. In a state with a “three strikes” law, Billingsley would have faced life in prison. Instead, he was given 14 years with a 16-year suspended sentence. In Maryland, that meant he would be back on the streets just seven years later, thanks to “good time” credits.

On September 19, 11 months after his latest release, Billingsley allegedly broke into a Baltimore home, raped a woman, tied her up along with the man she was with, and set them both on fire. Miraculously, they survived.

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While local police were looking for him in that case, Billingsley allegedly followed tech CEO Pava LaPere into her apartment building. She was discovered on the rooftop of her building, half-naked, beaten, and strangled. Billingsley was apprehended with the help of U.S. marshals several days after LaPere’s death. He is now facing first-degree murder charges.

The Baltimore story is particularly gruesome and has caught national attention, but it’s more common than you might think. Similar atrocities have been occurring for years across the country, including in red states.

America has a rampant under-incarceration problem, with repeat violent offenders being released from prison daily. Yet both political parties worry about “nonviolent, first-time, low-level” offenders being locked up. They tried to use straw-man examples to drive a false narrative that we suffer an “over-incarceration” crisis. Their solution is “decarceration.

In reality, we need to put more people in prison, not fewer, and for longer stretches. Even if you only account for the murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults in this country — if we actually had a semblance of justice — the prison population would have to swell in order to keep the bad guys off the streets.

Let’s just assume for a moment that we would never lock someone up for drug trafficking, commercial theft, larceny, vandalism, or firearms violations. Mind you, many of those perpetrators are violent repeat offenders and are wreaking havoc on our cities. But let’s simply focus murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. How many of these crimes are solved and result in an arrest? Of those, how many of the perpetrators are convicted and serve time in prison? Of those, how many are sentenced to a just duration of time in light of the seriousness of their offense? Finally, how many end up serving their full sentences?

We can use the FBI’s crime data to answer the first question about clearance rates. The numbers are pretty consistent from year to year, but we’ll use the 2019 FBI crime data. In that year alone, just 61.4% of the 14,325 homicides, 32.9% of the 124,817 rapes, 30.5% of the 239,643 armed robberies, and 52.3% of the 726,778 aggravated assaults were “cleared” cases. That means in 5,529 murder cases, 83,752 rape cases, 166,552 armed robbery cases, and 346,673 aggravated assault cases, there was no arrest.

In other words, among the four violent categories under discussion, more than 758,000 violent crimes were unresolved in one year alone. Often, many of those crimes were committed by the same individuals, but this still means there are likely tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of violent criminals who escape justice year after year.

If it were possible to clear 100% of violent crimes — again, leaving aside other offenses like theft and drug trafficking — the prison population would necessarily swell.

But the under-incarceration problem is worse than just the 758,000 or so cases that go without an arrest. Even among the roughly 500,000 people arrested annually for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, only a tiny number of them wind up being convicted and sentenced to even the guideline level of imprisonment. For example, in 2019, out of 17,355 felony convictions in Minnesota, only 3,612 were fully sentenced, and almost all of them get out of prison much earlier because of numerous early release and good-time credit programs.

A good way of measuring this is to use the Bureau of Justice Statistics report on percentage of convicts leaving state prison in 2019 who served various levels of time by given category. According to the BJS, among the prisoners released from state prison in 2018 — before the recent wave of prison “reforms” — most served 44% of their sentences on average. Even convicted murderers served 58% of their sentences on average. The median length of time served for murder was less than 10 years in 30% of cases and more than 20 years in only 42% of cases. The median time served for rape was less than 10 years in 64% of cases. In total, 71% of those serving time for a violent crime category served less than five years, and nearly half served less than two years.

The whole point of “criminal justice reform” was to address an over-incarceration problem. In reality, the opposite is true. Violent crime is a cultural and social problem. We have taken away the best remedies for violent crime.

Rather than just focusing on more policing and “back the blue,” we need red states to stop emulating blue states with early-release policies. All violent criminals should be ineligible for early release. Murderers and even some rapists need to get the death penalty — expeditiously. Other violent criminals need tougher sentencing in general. As for repeat violent offenders, we need genuine “three strikes” laws that keep them behind bars for life after the third violent felony conviction.

In a sad irony, EcoMap, the company headed by Pava LaPere, once put out a statement proclaiming its stance “against systemic racism and in support of Black Lives Matter movement.” That movement is fueling the greatest release of violent criminals in decades, which ensures that no lives are safe.

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