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Utah Law Aimed at Easing Prison Overpopulation May Have Led to Officer’s Death

After Salt Lake County Unified Police Officer Douglas Barney was shot and killed by a man with a long criminal record, some Utahans are saying the officer lost his life due to a regrettable practice of releasing prisoners too early.

Critics also point to a pair of new rules that might make the lives of Utah’s police officers more dangerous.

On Sunday morning, January 17, a recently released convict named Cory Lee Henderson engaged in a shoot out with officer Barney and a second officer. Barney was struck one time in the head and quickly died while his partner, Officer Jon Richey, was struck three times. Richey is currently in stable condition. The assailant was also killed in the gunfight.

But after the shooting, some fear two new rules governing the early release of convicts in the Beehive State is creating a situation that might be increasing the dangers the state’s officers face every day.

The new rules, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and the Response and Incentive Matrix, took effect last October and are aimed at helping to reduce the state’s crowded jails.

The Response and Incentive Matrix is meant to streamline sentencing guidelines and to reward offenders for making progress toward rehabilitation. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is meant to reduce penalties for certain drug crimes. Both are meant to reduce prison populations.

But according to the Desert News, critics fear the policies are indiscriminately releasing dangerous criminals into the populace.

“Right now is the scariest time to be in law enforcement ’cause we’re leaving these guys strung out. We’re not keeping them in prison like we should be,” former Adult Probation and Parole officer Blake Woodring said.

“There’s no thought to officer safety in these programs,” he added.

The paper went on to recount the long criminal history of the cop killer, even reporting that his mother, Peggy Holladay, admitted to her son’s battle to end addiction.

“They come out (of prison), don’t get a chance to get a job, and they get stuck going back to the same thing that they had before because there are no opportunities,” the killer’s mother said.

“Sometimes people need to be in prison. No matter how much it costs, some people need to be in prison because they’re a danger to the community. We’re creating so many more victims and crimes because we’re not sending these people back when they should be incarcerated,” former parole officer Woodring said.

Of course, the programs have supporters in state government. After all, the polices did get enacted. One told the paper, “The trend of law enforcement officers being killed in higher numbers” started long before last October’s enactment of the two new programs.

But the perception that deaths of officers is wildly higher these days may not correspond to reality. In fact, fewer officers are being killed, according to a recent article in The Washington Post.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com

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