A Second Look at Sentencing Reform

When she commuted of death sentences for every condemned murderer in Oregon last week, outgoing Governor Kate Brown may have given the state’s worst murderers the opportunity for parole.  An article in CNS News by Hans Bader reports that murderers who killed their victims before 1989, the year that the state adopted true life without parole (LWOP) as the alternative to a death sentence, can petition for parole because they are not eligible for LWOP.   The state’s other thirteen condemned murderers could become eligible for release under the state’s Second Chance Law.  The Oregonian reports that the law (SB 819) was adopted last year to give prison inmates a pathway to early release.  The measure was promoted by progressives who believe that no criminal should serve more than 20 years behind bars regardless of their crime.  Governor Brown signed that bill into law.

Bader explains:

“Under Oregon’s “second look” law, a sentence can be reduced, and an inmate released, if the inmate and a district attorney petition to have his sentence reduced. That’s true regardless of whether the inmate was sentenced to life imprisonment, or is not yet eligible for parole, or has been denied parole by the parole board. Right now, the second-look law excludes aggravated murderers from its reach. But advocates of second-look legislation support allowing all inmates who have spent 10 or 15 years in prison to seek a reduction in their sentence. For example, Virginia’s proposed second-look legislation allows Class 1 felons to be released, even though they consist of people who have committed aggravated murders, who ordinarily are not eligible for parole or geriatric release. Originally, second-look legislation in Oregon and elsewhere only covered criminals who committed their crimes at below age 18. But second-look laws have steadily broadened since then to cover all types of offenses and ages. Washington, DC’s law was first expanded to people who committed their crimes at below age 25 in 2019. In 2022, the DC Council voted to expand it to cover offenders of all ages and all types of offenses, provided that an offender has served 20 years in prison (if the crime was committed at age 25 or above) or 15 years in prison (if the crime was committed at below age 25). Progressive groups in Oregon are already touting the DC Council’s recent action as a model for their state.”

This kind of law would be a windfall for progressive (read pro-criminal) district attorneys such as Los Angeles DA George Gascon or Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, who have implemented policies to seek the shortest sentences possible for the criminals they prosecute and partner with defense attorneys to reduce the sentences of prison inmates, including murderers.  These policies are based on the belief that most criminals “age out of criminal behavior over time,” as advocates of Second Look laws tell us.

But as Bader notes, “experts say many inmates do not age out of crime, even when they reach their 50s or 60s. In February 2022, the U.S. Sentencing Commission issued a report finding that over an eight-year period, violent offenders returned to crime at a 63.8% rate. Even among those over age 60, 25.1% of violent offenders were rearrested. Many inmates commit more murders or violent crimes decades after they were first sent to prison. At the age of 76, Albert Flick murdered a woman, stabbing her at least 11 times while her twin children watched. He had earlier spent 25 years in prison for killing his wife by stabbing her 14 times in front of her daughter. At the age of 19, while on parole, Kenneth McDuff shot and killed two boys, then killed a girl after raping her and torturing her with burns and a broomstick. After being paroled years later at the age of 43, he murdered additional women — as many as 15 women in several states.”

Under the state’s broad clemency powers Oregon’s Governor could have prohibited the murderer’s whose sentences she commuted from eligibility from parole.  She chose not to.

Whatever one calls them, Second Chance,  Second Look or Smart Sentencing, none of these laws provide criminals with just one more opportunity to stop committing crimes.  They provide multiple opportunities.  And when the offender finally commits murder or rapes a child and receives an appropriately long sentence, progressives still want to turn them loose.