Home / General / Death without parole

Death without parole

/
/
/
1 Views

The suicide of former NFL star and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez is an occasion for thinking about the policy of sentencing people to sentences of life without parole.  One of the less noted perversities of capital punishment is that it deflects attention from this subject.  Indeed, an innocent person on death row almost certainly has a far better chance of eventual exoneration than someone serving life sentence, because of the far greater per capita resources expended on death penalty cases.

There are currently about 2,900 people on death row, and more than a third of them are in jurisdictions that now almost never execute anyone, most notably California.  Meanwhile as of five years ago around 159,000 people in the US were serving life sentences, and nearly a third of those sentences did not include the possibility of parole.  Several thousand of the latter sentences were imposed on juveniles, in some cases for crimes committed when the offender was as young as 13.  (The US is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole).

Life without parole is a barbaric sentence, that no civilized legal system should tolerate.  While there are certainly people who should never be released from prison before they die, that judgment should be made on a truly individualized basis, not by sentencing whole classes of offenders to the certainty of lifetime imprisonment.  The fact that life without parole exists in large part as a wedge against death penalty advocates is just another example of the social damage that the continued existence of capital punishment does — as is the fact that so few resources, comparatively speaking, are dedicated to the legal claims of the tens of thousands of people in America serving legally irrevocable life sentences.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Derelict

    This, it seems to me, is more of a case against mandatory sentencing in all its forms. There are, indeed, individuals who need to be kept away from other people for the rest of their lives. The challenge is to, first, make our justice system much less likely to convict innocent people. And second, to allow for the proper give-and-take between all parties when determining sentence.

    • A not insignificant problem being, me thinks, that people in general have less problem paying to warehouse someone for life than paying to make sure someone is actually guilty.

      • Derelict

        Couple that with the predisposition to believe, as Ed Meese put it, “The police do no arrest innocent people” and you have a recipe for justice failure pretty consistently. Add a dash of questionable forensics being presented as rock-solid science for a justice souffle that falls spectacularly while leaving the most bitter taste in the most vulnerable mouths.

    • efgoldman

      The challenge is to, first, make our justice system much less likely to convict innocent people. And second, to allow for the proper give-and-take between all parties when determining sentence.

      The very first challenge, and one I have no idea how to overcome, is to raise and dedicate enough tax money to support such a system – along with all the other things, from infrastructure to mail delivery to basic income to medical care that the government at various levels should fund.

      Back in Reaganaut days, when we were all going to get mugged on our front porches and murdered in our beds, I proposed a 50 cents per paycheck surtax dedicated to police, courts, judges, public defenders. Oh my stars you;d have thought I proposed nuking Pacific Palisades!

  • NewishLawyer

    The problem I see is that there is just too much bad blood and bad faith in the system and it is hard to get people to give in. Even people on the left can get swept up in fury with stories about someone getting away with too light a sentence.

    Death Penalty opponents have used LWOP as an alternative for years and have sometimes marketed it as being more of a punishment than death.

    There is also the fact that some people commit really horrible crimes and finding the right level of punishment is very hard. What should happen to the multiple murderer? What should happen to a Bernie Madoff or some other white-collar criminal who swindles millions of people? A Rudolph Hess or Klaus Barbie? Or a psycho creep who imprisons and rapes women for years?

    I honestly don’t know the answer here. My instinct is to agree with you that LWOP is horrible and brutal and that there is no good reason (and a waste of resources) to keep people imprisoned for decades especially older people. But sometimes older people commit really bad acts (Bernie Madoff) and horrific crimes are going down but they still happen.

    • Norrin Radd

      I’ve long since lost faith in the ability of judges or juries to accurately judge how long to lock people up. How many people get out (with good behavior in half the time they’re sentenced to) and go on to commit heinous crimes? Darrell, below, was a classmate of mine who not long after graduation killed 2 people. Had he been given life the first time, 5 people would be alive today.

      KCK man gets life in prison for five murders

      Prosecutors charged that Stallings fatally shot Trina Jennings, 26, who was seven months pregnant, and wounded Anthony Jennings because he believed they were involved in the robbing and beating of Stallings’ mother.

      Also killed were Samantha Sigler, 24; Destiny Wiles, 23; Tameika Jackson, 24; and Melvin Montague, 34. Prosecutors said those victims witnessed the shootings of Trina and Anthony Jennings…

      Stallings was paroled less than a year before the shootings after serving 12 years for two second-degree murder convictions in Wyandotte County. He also was serving time for two counts of aggravated assault. All the charges were related to a botched drug deal in which two people were shot to death and two others were wounded.

      And Remember the Stanford swimmer who got out in 6 months? With a mandatory minimum perhaps he would’ve served 5-10 years. Mandatory minimums help eliminate and reduce discrimination. Minorities or poor whites wouldn’t have gotten the treatment he did. Ending mandatory minimums will only result in whites getting out of jail quickly while minorities languish behind bars. Between that and the recidivists like Darrell above I can only see ending mandatory minimums increasing injustice.

      • Malaclypse

        Refresh me, is this TJ’s sock puppet?

        • sibusisodan

          I no longer have any confidence which one is the puppet. Are we all the puppet?

          • “No puppet. No Puppet, You’re the puppet!”

            • N__B

              No puppet, no no
              You’re the puppet repeats the
              Puppet of puppets

          • Bruce B.

            Worst. Thomas Ligotti story. Ever.

            • wjts

              And yet S.T. Joshi still praised it to the skies for its cosmicism.

        • Rob in CT

          Yes (or TJ was this one’s puppet).

          So he’s either a biker dude from Chicago or a guy from Kansas who really doesn’t like amusement park regulations…

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            Biker? I thought he was supposed to be a black guy from the projects.

            • wjts

              It’s both. One of those “floor wax and my daughter” things.

            • muddy

              He was black, loved guns and authoritarianism, also motorcycles, don’t remember the projects. Wanted to crack down on all the horrible black people ruining the neighborhoods with their crime, none of them could be rehabilitated, except if they were athletes accused of rape, then they were innocent every time. Actually I think the rapists might have always been innocent regardless of race, but they were especially innocent if they were black. The part where he wanted everyone to go to prison except if they were rapists was what particularly disturbed me.

              • Bill Murray

                Also Cosby love and athletes accused of beating their child (Adrian Peterson) are OK

          • Malaclypse

            Cool. So why do people respond to anecdata from a serial bullshitter?

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              ’cause he’s the president?

              … o waitasecond, wrong serial bullshitter. nevermind

            • Ivan Pavlov

              You know nothing of my work.

          • Norrin Radd

            I’m nobody’s sock puppet, least of all TJ’s. We’re old college roomies though and he’s the one who turned me on to the site. I like Chicago and visit frequently but I’m a Kansas boy through and through. I know he’s not popular around here but I think y’all are mostly good natured about it. Half the conversations make feel like I’m back in college, struggling now as then…Schlitterbahn is getting rid of that slide and the boys family settled their lawsuit. We also just passed legislation requiring 3rd party inspections. So we got some little bit of regulation after all.

        • efgoldman

          Refresh me, is this TJ’s sock puppet?

          The very same

    • erick

      eliminating life without parole doesn’t mean people can’t still be locked up for the rest of their lives, it just means they get a periodic review. I don’t think Charles Manson is ever getting released.

      • sonamib

        Yup. Truly horrible, unreformable people will be kept in prison by the parole board. Prisoners who have mellowed out and no longer pose any threat can be released. It’s win-win, really.

    • q-tip

      I honestly don’t know the answer here.

      I don’t think there is one answer; there is a whole universe-load of partial answers that would make things slightly better. (Most of which have little to do, on the surface, with criminal justice policy.)

      One thing that I think would help is de-escalating the emotional ratchet in our approach to crime and punishment. As you say, it is difficult for most of us to be dispassionate about some crimes. (Not just murder.) I think that eliminating the death penalty might be an important step in that de-escalation. Taking it off the table means that the emotional ratchet can’t get quite as tight.

  • socraticsilence

    This just seems odd coming so closely on the heels of his acquittal for the double murder that allegedly spurred the murder for which he was actually convicted.

    • Warren Terra

      I can see why you’d say that. On the other hand, I don’t know a lot about his case or his life, but more importantly I think it’s a mistake to make this about Hernandez in particular.

    • The acquittal obviously doesn’t mean that he didn’t do it. The jury apparently found reasonable doubt, because the defense put the blame on the only eyewitness. Note that Hernandez had later shot said eyewitness (non-fatally obviously) in what was likely an attempt at witness intimidation; and he was likely involved in an earlier shooting when he was a student at U Florida. However, there is no doubt about the murder for which he was convicted. One suspects the suicide happened because he realized the acquittal didn’t really change anything for him. I agree with WT that it’s not really responsive to make this about Hernandez specifically, but he was apparently a psychopath who murdered on a whim.

      • marduk

        Note that Hernandez had later shot said eyewitness (non-fatally obviously) in what was likely an attempt at witness intimidation

        He shot him in the face, dumped him out of his truck, and drove off. I think it was likely an attempt at murder.

    • Morbo

      I dunno, seems like it might really drive home the fact that there are no circumstances that are going to get you reprieve.

      • Norrin Radd

        Should fairly convicted murderers get reprieve?

        I haven’t heard anyone say that he was the victim of profiling, discrimination, or a rush to justice. I don’t believe in the death penalty but I don’t see why a fairly convicted murderer should walk the streets again. And if they do it should only be after they meet a very high bar of proving they won’t re-offend. I don’t know how you can look at murderer and decide with any confidence that they won’t re-offend.

        • Crusty

          Well, if someone is put in prison for life without any chance of parole, they are deprived of life, permanently, just on a slower time frame than a death penalty case. If you believe that should be the remedy or just punishment for taking a life, fair enough. But on the other hand, if you don’t think the state should have the power to deprive someone of life, completely, then a convicted murder should have the hope of living outside the prison one day- something to pin their hopes on as opposed to just rotting slowly.

          • Norrin Radd

            Yeah i think life without parole is a reasonable punishment for murder. The victim’s loved ones never see the victim again. Someone violent enough to commit murder might want to think on that a spell.

    • rea

      This just seems odd coming so closely on the heels of his acquittal for the double murder

      It is not entirely clear that this was suicide.

  • heckblazer

    Relatedly, here is a very good piece written by a deathrow inmate on the dehumanization of Texas prisons. The first sentence:

    “The first time I met Mad Dog, he nearly shot me with a hepatitis C-infected blowgun dart.”

    • Joe_JP

      Death On Hold also gives some insights from the inside.

  • Warren Terra

    Life without parole is a barbaric sentence, that no civilized legal system should tolerate. While there are certainly people who should never be released from prison before they die, that judgment should be made on a truly individualized basis, not by sentencing whole classes of offenders to the certainty of lifetime imprisonment.

    Also note that this “truly individualized basis” doesn’t have to be at sentencing. It can be done at parole! Charles Manson is up for parole every year or few. I’m confident he’s never getting out, and it doesn’t bother me that he gets a hearing.

    Indeed, even if we were to abolish “life without parole” we’d still need to look into whether every jurisdiction offers a meaningful chance for the apparently rehabilitated actually to get parole. And then there’s the question about why we do so little in our prisons to promote rehabilitation …

    • Paul Campos

      Right, a system that doesn’t have life without parole, but in which life sentences never or almost never result in eventual parole is almost as bad (This is the case in several US states at present).

      As you say, Manson is never getting out and that’s probably the just outcome (I don’t know enough about his specific circumstances of course). Note that a couple of the Manson family killers were very young women at the time of their crimes, and spent decades in prison as model prisoners when no longer under the spell of a charismatic maniac. Their parole hearings went or have gone nowhere.

      • yet_another_lawyer

        Note that a couple of the Manson family killers were very young women at the time of their crimes, and spent decades in prison as model prisoners when no longer under the spell of a charismatic maniac. Their parole hearings went or have gone nowhere.

        I’m not sure how far “extraordinary achievement in not murdering people while incarcerated” gets you.

        • What benefit is there in continuing to incarcerate criminals for decades if they don’t appear to be a risk for offending again? There is no inherent social value in keeping people in a cage.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            There are few enough murderers in prison (as opposed to other types of criminals and non-criminals) that it doesn’t cost much to imprison them for life. The “keep murderers in a cage” tax, split across the populate, is an incredible bargain. I’m sure that sucks if you’re a murderer and would really like to get out of prison, but that is the sort of thing you might want to consider before choosing to murder someone.

            • “It’s cheap” is not sufficient justification to deprive a person of their liberty. Every minute a person spends in prison needs to have some real social benefit or it is unjust.

              • yet_another_lawyer

                The justification for depriving someone of their liberty is that they have already chosen to murder someone before. In addition to the retribution motive, in most circumstances the risk that they will do so again is unacceptably high, as “chose to murder someone before” is among the strongest predictors for “will choose to murder someone in the future.” That is among the best justifications out there. I was merely responding to the canard that we cannot afford to incarcerate murderers– we can.

              • Brad Nailer

                I’m not sure I agree with that. Isn’t it possible to imagine a crime so heinous that the perpetrator in committing it has given up his right to live in society, ever again?

                I guess I’m disagreeing with Paul et al. that life without parole is fundamentally unjust. I don’t see it that way. Some people do not deserve to walk among us, and the fact that they may along their way in prison change their lives for the better is, I think, beside the point.

                Absent the death penalty, should Hitler have ever been eligible for parole, even if he repented?

                • Brad Nailer

                  And by “to live in society,” I mean, of course, to live in society outside the prison walls.

                • John F

                  Absent the death penalty, should Hitler have ever been eligible for parole, even if he repented?

                  I once read an alternative history novel, where Hitler was captured alive, was paraded across Europe naked in a cage where people could come, jeer, throw things at him, poke at him, etc.,

                • Crusty

                  I think what Paul is proposing is a system where the likes of Dylan Roof might get 50 years and in fifty years, his case comes up for review, and whoever’s reviewing it (parole board or some other substitute) may consider certain factors set forth by a legislature- rehabilitation, safety, etc. And the result for someone like Roof might be sorry, we’ve reviewed your case and the factors do not weigh in favor of your release. A factor could be (and I’m going to state this inartfully at the moment, but its a thing), the extent to which society wants to continue to express revulsion at your actions. The general point though is that even the most vile have a theoretical shot at something changing.

          • Norrin Radd

            What evidence is there that we have the ability to gauge whether or not an individual will re-offend? Recidivism rates are relatively high. In the case of a convicted murderer why risk it? We’re not talking about mere drug use or joy riding.

            • yet_another_lawyer

              This is an underappreciated point, particularly when the cost savings argument is used.

              Okay, so we let Mr. Triple Murderer out because he now says he feels really, really bad about it (he pinky swears and his lawyer agrees). Do you suppose he’s walking out and getting a job as an accountant? In most cases, probably not. He’s walking out and signing up for SNAP and other benefits, so any argument that says we should let murderers go for the fabulous cost savings has to account for the fact that we’ll be partially supporting the murderer on the outside too.

              • I didn’t make a cost savings argument. The state should be spending a lot more money on criminal justice — rehabilitation programs, preventing rape and other forms of prison violence, restitution for victims’ families, and so on. But the state’s unique power to lawfully deprive people of life and liberty must always be used for real social benefit.

              • sibusisodan

                The average cost of prisoners per head is $31k pa (link).

              • q-tip

                Prison food has a reputation for being shitty – never eaten it myself – but I don’t think it’s meaningfully cheaper than paying to feed someone on the outs. It’s cooked and served in a frickin’ prison. Everything that goes on in there is more expensive than on the outside.

                I also don’t think “but he’ll be getting food stamps!” is very convincing as a rebuttal, unless you’re already into the “look at those strapping young bucks with T-bones” emotional argument against welfare spending.

                Which, sorry if I’m wrong about this – I’m guessing you are?

                • yet_another_lawyer

                  No, just that frequently a point made is “but it costs so much to incarcerate people.” It does, and we should do less of it, but we can easily afford to keep every murderer locked up for life.

                  Back of the envelope numbers: The maximum SNAP benefit for one person is $194 a month. Somewhat outdated, but Florida apparently manages to feed prisoners on $2.32 a day.

                  But more to the point, the murderer we’re so generously letting out is still effectively a ward of the state– we’re all just paying to house and feed him as a free man rather than as a prisoner. And what do we get in return? An increased chance that he’ll be able to murder again? This is an awful, awful idea.

                  I also don’t think “but he’ll be getting food stamps!” is very convincing as a rebuttal, unless you’re already into the “look at those strapping young bucks with T-bones” emotional argument against welfare spending.

                  Which, sorry if I’m wrong about this – I’m guessing you are?

                  Right. I’m for keeping murders in prison (whose victims are disproportionately people of color, and if released would disproportionately return to minority-majority neighborhoods), therefore I must be indulging in racial dog whistles.

                • q-tip

                  Hey y_a_l,
                  1) Sorry for assuming bad faith. I thought bringing up SNAP was so weird that it indicated nefarious intent.
                  2) $194/month is between $6 and $7 per day. So your comparison between $2.32 and $194 becomes less dramatic once we compare apples to apples – but your readers can be relied upon to do that basic math, so I won’t hold that against ya.
                  3) It’s also a little weird to compare the maximum SNAP benefit for an individual in 2017 to per-inmate food costs from … 2003? Somewhat outdated, as you say. And income from work brings a released prisoner down from that maximum. I wonder if the $2.32/day cost number is offset by underpaid labor the inmate provides? Or includes the costs involved in transporting that food to a prison? Preparing and serving it there? Your cite didn’t help there, but maybe I missed something.

            • Warren Terra

              What’s the evidence to the contrary? A lot of violent (and for that matter property) crimes are a product of the offender being young and dumb. Others are the products of particular circumstances. I think it’s hardly inconceivable a parole board might be able to take a good hard look at the case and the convict before them.

            • MND

              What does “relatively high” mean? They are actually far, far lower than most people think.

            • muddy

              Shut the fuck up TJ, you sing a different tune when it’s about rape.

              I don’t know why people keep responding to a proven sock puppet in reasonable tones. Considering the things the various socks have said in the past I find it kind of creepy that people act like that’s okay.

              • Origami Isopod

                I think some people might not know the TJ/NR story or might not have looked closely enough at the handle before replying.

                That said, there are always people who are happy to extend goodwill to a repeat bad actor, so long as said bad actor is “polite” (i.e., doesn’t use “potty language” or insults). Personally I think that TJ/NR showing up again a few months after having been outed for sockpuppeting, pretending that nothing ever happened, is an insult to our collective intelligence.

                • sibusisodan

                  Yup. That’s what weird me out too. We’re supposed to just forget several years of TJ-persona and treat NR-persona as if they are a separate person?

                  No way.

                • Malaclypse

                  Personally I think that TJ/NR showing up again a few months after having been outed for sockpuppeting, pretending that nothing ever happened, is an insult to our collective intelligence.

                  Co-signed.

                • rea

                  I think it damned odd under the circumstances that he’s here now speaking against parole.

                • efgoldman

                  I think it damned odd under the circumstances that he’s here now speaking against parole.

                  Not odd at all. Under either nym, he’s been pretty much a lock ’em up and throw away the key guy forever [rapists and abusers excepted, of course]

            • Bill Murray

              Norway has a maximum sentence of 21 years. The 5-year recidivism rate is 20%, compared to the 76.6% rate in the US. Of course they do more to help their prisoners get back into normal life, and don’t have the blood thirsty, punishment first, last and always that effects the US

              • Brett

                EDIT: Others beat me to it about protective custody.

          • e.a.foster

            there isn’t any social value but it sure makes money for the private prison corporations. if people are at low risk to offend again then release them on parole. it costs the tax payer less. However, Americans seem to have this punishment thing going on in their heads. Might be their Calvinistic back grounds. If we give old Jeffy Sessions his way the U.S.A. will have another million in jail. where does it end?

      • Dilan Esper

        The mafia guys are probably an even better example than Manson, and if you wanted to argue for some form of mandatory life sentence, they would be the example I would use.

        Unlike Manson, a Mafia capo might very well return to crime even if he gets out as an old man, and it’s also conceivable that the Mafia could use threats or bribery to influence a parole board.

        • njorl

          But someone who had killed for an organized crime outfit might be less likely to commit crimes if they are no longer in such an outfit. Someone who has killed due to their own self-created motivations seems more likely, to me, to view criminal activity as the solution to some problem that might arise in the future.
          There are ways to make people burn their bridges with criminal organizations. They can be dangerous for the person doing it. For someone who has committed a truly heinous crime, I see nothing wrong with making such a deal a requirement for any hope of parole.

          • e.a.foster

            Not so much. Mafia “hit men” do it for a living. No one wants to pay them, they don’t kill. Its just business.

            If a person affiliated with organized crime goes to jail for 25 years they usually aren’t that integrated with the organization once they are released from jail. The very few who continue to maintain their alliances while in jail are usually very senior ranking members of the organization and really they aren’t much worse then corporate C.E.O.s or Generals. Like what is the difference between the head of a crime organization, a C.E.O. or a military General/Admiral? One way or another they or their organizations all kill people. don’t forget auto makers have let cars go into production because they didn’t want to spend an extra 27 cents on a safer part.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      Yes, and every time Charles Manson has a parole hearing the family of his victims have to show up and testify saying, in essence, “Yes, I’m still sad my loved one died and you should keep him in jail.” Giving Charles Manson a parole hearing isn’t worth the hassle to the families or the costs to the state it imposes.

      • Whether the family of the victim is still sad the victim died is not really very relevant to whether parole should be granted or not. Even though it’s pointless, I’m sure they’d be more upset if there were hearings they weren’t allowed to testify at.

        • yet_another_lawyer

          The parole board presumably deem of it at least some relevance, as they allow the testimony. Meanwhile, there’s not just the burden of having to attend, there’s also the fear that they actually will let him out. There is no good reason to impose this on the families, and that’s setting aside burning money by paying people to actually consider this farcical notion. The cost/benefit ratio just isn’t there.

          • Warren Terra

            The parole board presumably deem of it at least some relevance, as they allow the testimony

            I’m not sure you paid enough attention to the last line of the comment you replied to:

            I’m sure they’d be more upset if there were hearings they weren’t allowed to testify at.

            I would certainly hope the parole board largely ignores new testimony detailing the continuing impact of the original crime – it’s the board’s duty to take the horrors of the original crime into account regardless of whether anyone shows up to testify. The people who do show up are hopefully given some feeling of catharsis or agency, but their interests should be represented whether or not they show up, indeed whether or not they exist.

          • sonamib

            The cost/benefit ratio just isn’t there.

            First of all, I must say I’m pretty disgusted by your arguments in this thread. Upthread, you say it’s cheap enough to keep murderers in prison for life. Now you’re balking at the price of parole hearings? WTF?

            Do you really believe in the infallibility of the justice system? It doesn’t bother you when people make a final, irrevocable decision about the life of someone else? Can’t those decision-makers be wrong?

            Now, of course, it’s easy to find slam-dunk cases. Manson! Breivik! Those are awful people, and I hope they’re never free again. But they’re also outliers. Most people convicted of murders aren’t like them. It’s bad to legislate using outliers as examples.

            IMHO, parole hearings are the least we could do to prisoners. I mean, we might have royally fucked up by putting them there in the first place* (or not)! What’s wrong with reguarly assessing the evidence? It’s a small price to pay for civilization.

            *or we might just have miscalibrated the sentence, or the prisoner changed enough that their release is warranted…

            • yet_another_lawyer

              First of all, I must say I’m pretty disgusted by your arguments in this thread. Upthread, you say it’s cheap enough to keep murderers in prison for life. Now you’re balking at the price of parole hearings? WTF?

              I am fine with spending money to keep murderers in jail. I am not interested in spending money to let them out.

              Do you really believe in the infallibility of the justice system? It doesn’t bother you when people make a final, irrevocable decision about the life of someone else? Can’t those decision-makers be wrong?

              We should take claims of actual innocence very seriously– one of the worst things we can do is incarcerate someone for a crime they did not commit. That is not the hypothetical being discussed (and parole hearings do not typically reconsider guilt or innocence in any event). The whole exercise of, “Yes, I murdered a dozen people, but I swear I feel bad about it, so you should let me go” is as tiresome as it is pointless. A finder of fact is competent to decide a murderer is sufficiently heinous he should never get out. If they get it wrong, both appeals and a pardon process exist. The parole board is the fourth bite at the apple (initial sentencing, appeals process, pardon, and then parole). Enough already.

              • Bill Murray

                A finder of fact is competent to decide a murderer is sufficiently heinous he should never get out. If they get it wrong, both appeals and a pardon process exist.

                Is this true? It is not clear to me that a finder of fact is competent to decide this. I know I wouldn’t want Jeff Sessions being a finder of fact in any case in which I am involved. Appeals depends on how good your lawyer is, pardons aren’t going to happen in more than 2/3rds of the states, so aren’t exactly the panacea that you seem to imply they are.

      • Dave W.

        The families don’t have to show up at the parole hearing, any more than Manson did. They choose to do so to help ensure that their concerns are heard, but I think it is pretty unlikely that the board would grant him parole even if the families chose not to participate any further. There are some convicted murderers whose parole hearings may be a close call, but Manson isn’t likely to be one of them.

        • Thlayli

          Presumably the husband of one of the victims, Mr. Polanski, has not appeared at any of these hearings, due to his own (unrelated) issues with the California prison system.

      • Warren Terra

        Every time he has a hearing they choose to show up. I’m sure their previous statements are on file, and if the system can’t currently consider previously registered objections I’m sure it could be altered to do so.

        As to the expense: we’re choosing to incarcerate him until we no longer choose to do so, or until he dies. Paying for parole hearings is part of that decision, and probably not nearly the most expensive part of it.

        Lurid fictional movies and TV shows aside, I don’t think there are a lot of inexplicably lenient grantings of parole in this country.

        ETA also note that per Stepped Pyramids’ comment the trauma inflicted by the criminal prior to sentencing is not a new consideration, and while it certainly must be considered it doesn’t need to be plead anew by the victims’ family. The degree of rehabilitation must be assessed, and weighed against the awfulness of the crime, but it’s not clear that any new expressions of the crime’s continuing awfulness are helpful. What if the victims had no surviving friends or family? Should that speed the criminal’s parole?

      • yet_another_lawyer

        To the two comments above: I’m not sure giving the families the choice of “show up and testify about your loved one being murdered” or “don’t go and hope for the best” is a reasonable balance of harms, when the beneficiary of our charity is Charles Manson.

        • Domino

          To add to this – Anders Brevik may be a case study in how being too lenient on sentencing can cause harm to others, even while imprisoned. I honestly could not care less what “degrading” things Brevik is subject to while he stays in prison for the rest of his life. He murdered 77 people, many of them children. He deserves no comfort or sympathy or empathy from other humans.

          The fact that he continues to get headlines for this absurdity rubs salt on the wounds to the victims themselves, and the victim’s families.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            But the video games he’s provided aren’t good enough for him, you monster!

          • Lurker

            The treatment Breivik receives is a hallmark of Nordic justice system. He got a fair trial and a 21-year sentence, as Norway doesn’t have a life sentence. In addition, he received a protective order called “isolation”, which allows him to be kept imprisoned even after the sentence has been carried out, if he still poses a threat to common safety. This isolation is reviewed every two years.

            I have a full trust that if and when Breivik gets out, he is no longer a major threat to the society. Every human being needs to get a shot at rehabilitation, even those who definitely don’t deserve it.

            • sonamib

              Every human being needs to get a shot at rehabilitation, even those who definitely don’t deserve it.

              Yep, very well said.

          • sonamib

            That’s not really the fault of “leniency”, that’s the fault of journalists who keep talking to him, because it sells. Frankly, no one should interview the man, just let him rot and complain and be forgotten in his humane prison.

            His terrible acts will always be remembered, but his life after that is of no interest to anyone.

      • John F

        In Manson’s specific case the family of his victims don’t have to show up to argue against his release, he himself doesn’t show up and argue for his own release, but I would find it very amusing if Sharon Tate’s widower showed up to argue against releasing Manson and got himself arrested that way.

      • rea

        every time Charles Manson has a parole hearing the family of his victims have to show up and testify

        Other than the one spending decades avoiding extradition himself.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Barbaric societies have barbaric systems of “justice”.

    • Origami Isopod

      Yes.

      We are a violent, vengeful, punitive, deeply unequal society. So long as we are, our criminal “justice” system will reflect it.

      • ColBatGuano

        And I’m wondering what politician would ever take this on as an issue?

        • efgoldman

          I’m wondering what politician would ever take this on as an issue?

          None that ever wanted to stay in politics.

  • Mad Eejit

    The linked study on life sentences does not include – and acknowledges this, it seems, in footnote 10 – individuals sentenced to “virtual life” sentences. In my state and jurisdiction, “virtual life” sentences are not uncommon.

  • yet_another_lawyer

    Life without parole is a barbaric sentence, that no civilized legal system should tolerate. While there are certainly people who should never be released from prison before they die, that judgment should be made on a truly individualized basis, not by sentencing whole classes of offenders to the certainty of lifetime imprisonment.

    It seems like there are two different issues here: LWOP for a broad category of offenses and LWOP on an individualized basis. LWOP as an automatic sentence may indeed be problematic. But nothing stops us from deciding now that Dylann Roof should never get out. In the highly unlikely event that he reforms and should be let out, then the pardon power still exists. It’s illogical to engineer a whole system around the one in a billion change we can ever let him out.

    • Philip

      Only if you accept the barbaric idea that prisons exist for punishment. Otherwise, that billion to one chance is supposed to be the entire point of the whole system.

      • yet_another_lawyer

        Not really punishment, but realistically we are just warehousing him until he dies. He shouldn’t be tortured or gratuitously punished, but he’s too dangerous to ever be released. Again, I am sure that is unpleasant for him, but that’s the sort of thing he should have considered before choosing to murder a bunch of people.

        • There isn’t any justification for sentencing someone to permanent imprisonment. If we want to take away a person’s life by law, we should do it with a bullet to the head rather than the “civilized” slow-motion execution that is life in prison.

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            Nitrogen asphyxiation?

          • Domino

            So Anders Brevik deserves to be released one day?

            Dylan Roof deserves to be set free one day?

            Dennis Rader deserves to be a free man again?

            Lonnie David Franklin should be wandering out on the streets again?

            • Warren Terra

              I don’t know what Stepped Pyramids has to say, but I for one am not opposed to the death penalty in truly exceptional cases, albeit with due process and opportunities to appeal.

              • Domino

                Honest Question Warren – what does your ideal system of justice look like? Death Penalty in exceptional cases, then the next harshest sentence is what? 25 years?

                • Warren Terra

                  I’m fine with Life as a sentence, and for people actually to be imprisoned for life, not capped (as I understand it, in some wealthy countries “Life” may mean a maximum of 20-25 years) – but only with regular parole review. Just as I’m OK with eventually executing some truly horrific monsters, I’m okay with the unending incarceration of some truly notable malefactors, people who would receive parole hearings but whose crimes would make them a formality.

                  Also, I want a lot more effort at providing a safe environment in prison and opportunities and education towards rehabilitation. Because if we’re just tossing people into hell we probably can’t even let them out.

              • N__B

                I have no problem with a Manson or a Brevik being dead. I will never agree that the state should officially have the power to decide this. The state has too much power to injure and kill people already, and this type of power feeds the authoritarian mindset.

                I’m not criticizing you, as I think your position is reasonable. I’m just not going to agree with it because of other people, who flat-out want blood and a heavy state hand.

                • Philip

                  +1. The state should not be allowed to kill its people.

                • Origami Isopod

                  I’m just not going to agree with it because of other people, who flat-out want blood and a heavy state hand.

                  This is the crux of it. Along with the white supremacy baked into all U.S. institutions.

            • Q.E.Dumbass

              I think stepped pyramids would be in favor of incarceration until a maximum age (i.e., when debility/senescence has reasonably removed their being a threat to society).

              • What I’m in favor of is not assuming that I know exactly what is going to happen in any person’s life over the course of decades. Breivik is a piece of shit and may never be safe to release. I don’t think anyone today is competent to make that assessment.

                • efgoldman

                  I don’t think anyone today is competent to make that assessment.

                  Some actual person/people are going to have to decide at some point.

              • efgoldman

                when debility/senescence has reasonably removed their being a threat to society

                Then we have a different problem (which in fact exists today): Some prisoners serving very long (but not Life) sentences are living well into their 70s and 80s, and get released with really no way to survive outside of prison. They’re not threats to anyone but themselves. What’s society’s responsibility here?

            • Lurker

              Do you deserve to walk the streets as a free man? Did you deserve to be born capable of walking, when many were born disfigured? Did you deserve not to die of malnutrition or disease as an infant, when millions around the world died?

              No, you deserves none of these. You got them, by chance or as God’s gifts, take your pick. However, if you understand that you haven’t deserved anything you have but got it by chance, you might be more willing to show mercy on those, who don’t deserve freedom.

              • yet_another_lawyer

                Right. So let me try to unpack this logic:

                1) Paralysis exists.
                2) Birth defects exist.
                3) Child mortality exists.
                4-99)???????????
                100) Therefore, we MUST SHOW MERCY TO DYLANN ROOF.

                Well shit. Hand me the car keys, I’ll drive him to burger king myself.

                • Lurker

                  My quarrel is with the logic of “deserving” things. That works fine when we are talkimg about economic transactions. However, when we come to the realm of existential issues, we need to be aware that no person really deserves anything. It just happens that bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people. The universe gives a very good impression of being amoral and random. Thus, we should be humbly grateful at the fact that we haven’t committed murders, nor been convicted of the crime, and can debate this issue outside the bars.

                  It is just a matter of blind luck that we are not psychopaths. Maybe, if I had been born in an inner city, I would have breathed a bit more lead and become one. Or maybe, if I had spent a few minutes more in the birth canal, I would have got a brain damage making me more prone to violence. Or maybe, had I had less supportive parents, I would have gone off the deep end. It might be me or you on the other side of the bars, and we cannot really know the numerous small lucky instances that have kept us innocent and free to engage in moral philosophy.

                  Thus, we should recognize our own basic humanity in these monsters and treat them better than they deserve, because that way, we avoid becoming assholes ourselves.

              • Domino

                So how much mercy should’ve been shown to Himmler and Goebels?

                How long would they be in prison for overseeing the murder of millions of people in the name of a racist euthanasia campaign?

                Where does personal responsibility enter into your equation, Lurker? Because I, for one, have not murdered a bunch of black women over the course of 2 decades. I haven’t imprisoned women and raped them an untold amount of times over decades.

                The moment you extend empathy to those people is the moment you corrupt empathy to the point of it being useless. I don’t care if 20 years from now they are sorry for what they did, and see the error of their ways. What they did is unforgivable, and no amount of reform will ever change that.

                • Lurker

                  A man can commit crimes that are much beyond his capacity to withstand retributive justice. There is no penalty that would be sufficient to cover Breivik’s, Göring’s or Himmler’s crimes. Drawing, hanging and quartering a dozen times would not begin to cover it.

                  Thus, it makes no sense thinking these persons could ever face justice in the sense of suffering enough. The discussion must start from the question: “How much we, as a free society, are willing to debase ourselves in violating these persons to achieve enough deterrence?” In my opinion, Statute of Rome gives a good baseline: life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years, with regular parole review thereafter.

                • Malaclypse

                  The discussion must start from the question: “How much we, as a free society, are willing to debase ourselves in violating these persons to achieve enough deterrence?”

                  Thank you. This is perfect.

              • Roberta

                Do you deserve to walk the streets as a free man? Did you deserve to be born capable of walking, when many were born disfigured? Did you deserve not to die of malnutrition or disease as an infant, when millions around the world died?

                Yes, yes, and yes. The others who didn’t get these things also deserved them, they just didn’t get it.

                I also haven’t committed any acts of racial terrorism. If I had, my level of ‘deserving’ would be much less.

                All your talk about lead paint and psychopaths is irrelevant. And insultingly so, in this context, given that lead paint disproportionately affects people of color, most of whom do not turn out to be Nazis, while there is no indication that Dylann Roof suffered from any such problems. Or that he was a ‘psychopath’, for that matter.

            • sonamib

              So Anders Brevik deserves to be released one day?

              Dylan Roof deserves to be set free one day?

              Dennis Rader deserves to be a free man again?

              Lonnie David Franklin should be wandering out on the streets again?

              You are completely missing the point. Everyone who is convicted of anything, including murder (and including those people you cited) deserves a shot at getting out of prison before the end of their sentence.

              Realistically, Breivik et al. will never actually get close to getting out of prison. But you know that life without parole wouldn’t be applied just to those people. It’s applied to people who don’t really deserve it, including minors, as the OP points out. That’s the fallible justice system we have. And even if there were no wrongfully convicted murderers, people change after 20, 30, 40, 50 years. Maybe they’ve changed enough that they can get out, maybe not. That’s what the parole board is for.

              • Junipermo

                Why? Why does Dylan Roof deserve a shot at getting out of jail?

                Out of pure race hatred, he took advantage of the kindness and openness of churchgoers so that he could gun them down like a bunch of sitting ducks. One man tried to talk him down and he blew the man away. Nine innocent, utterly defenseless people are dead, and for the most evil of reasons. Why does he deserve to be considered for parole?

                • Origami Isopod

                  As horrific as the U.S. prison system is, and as much there is we could learn from various European approaches to the issue… I agree entirely. I’d rather focus on the majority of cases in which the crime was nowhere near as heinous.

              • Domino

                You are completely missing the point. Everyone who is convicted of anything, including murder (and including those people you cited) deserves a shot at getting out of prison before the end of their sentence.

                No they don’t. Because that system you propose is abhorrent and cheapens human life.

                Lonnie Franklin was 57 when he was arrested for killing a dozen women over the course of 20 years. If he’s still alive at 77, according to your logic, he should get a chance to go free. Does doing 20 years in jail for murdering 12 people sound fair to you?

                Would you support that sentence for someone who was 25 and convicted of killing the same number of people?

            • Robespierre

              They “deserve” to walk free today, being humans like all others. Unfortunately, both for example to others and as protection for the rest of us, we can’t let them free.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            I would be completely fine with Roof dying to a firing squad- indeed, I would prefer it– but I’m willing to settle for life in prison, as it is the next best thing to minimizing the chance that he will murder again. Politics is the art of compromise.

            • Why a firing squad? Does the county use a ‘euthanasia squad’ when destroying a violent dog? Why not just shoot them and dump them in an incinerator?

              • yet_another_lawyer

                Yes to the shooting, whether it’s done by a squad or individual. There is no need to impose gratuitous pain, but a quick death neutralizes the threat he represents forever and is still far better than he deserves.

                As for what to do with the body: The threat has already been destroyed, so whatever the normal legal procedure is for a dead body is fine (either the family can have it or if they don’t want it, a pauper’s grave, cremation, or whatever the normal form of disposal is fine). A particular method of corpse disposal doesn’t really help.

    • efgoldman

      But nothing stops us from deciding now that Dylann Roof should never get out. In the highly unlikely event that he reforms and should be let out

      Possibly not the best example, since he’s been sentenced to death in the federal trial.

      • yet_another_lawyer

        The feds have only executed 3 people since ’88. I realize “technically” he was sentenced to death, but the most likely outcome is that he dies in prison by something other than execution by the federal government (old age, prison violence, suicide, etc.). Still, feel free to substitute in Charles Manson.

        • efgoldman

          The feds have only executed 3 people since ’88.

          Tim McVeigh being one. While his body count was much higher (and included many children, and bombing a federal facility) that probably shouldn’t matter,

  • Downpuppy

    How can the US still have juveniles sentenced to life without parole after Miller V Alabama?

    The link you give is ???:
    In 2012, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court struck down laws authorizing mandatory life without parole sentences for children convicted of homicide offenses. The Court did not extend Graham’s categorical ban for non-homicide offenses to homicide offenses. As a result, children convicted of homicide crimes continue to face the possibility of being subjected to life without parole sentences.

    In Massachusetts, when that came down, the SJC ordered parole hearings for everyone serving such a sentence, and they’ve been reasonably good about taking them seriously.

  • janitor_of_lunacy

    This discussion has degenerated the way all discussions of LWOP seem to — to discussing Manson and others of his ilk. The problem is that we are ignoring the other end of the tail — the people in prison for life because they were involved in a murder as a juvenile (often without being the one who actually performed the killing, and more often being an accomplice to an older friend or relative), or the people in prison for an unintended death which occurred in the process of another felony for an example of someone who falls into both categories). There just seems to be a somewhat inconsistent standard (even within an individual state) of when LWOP is applied and when it isn’t.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      Definitely. As I was saying above, imposing LWOP as an automatic part of a sentence should rarely, if ever, be used. In particular, the operation of the felony murder can in many instances lead to absurd results. That is worlds away from saying that nobody should ever get LWOP as the OP seems to.

      • McAllen

        If LWOP exists it will be applied unfairly at least sometimes, since human beingas are imperfect.

    • efgoldman

      The problem is that we are ignoring the other end of the tail

      Also the people who are lifers because of “three strikes” laws – who may never have committed a violent crime at all.

      • Junipermo

        Three strikes laws are grotesque abomination when they lock people up for nonviolent crimes. No argument there.

    • Nick never Nick

      This is an excellent point — for some reason, discussions always move towards the monsters, and ignore the much more frequent marginal cases. I remember a ghastly discussion some years back of one of those ‘collateral homicide’ (or whatever they’re called) in Colorado, where someone killed a relative and then one of their friends (who was totally uninvolved) tried to get them to do something that wasn’t exactly turn themselves in, but was still a step in the right direction — and ended up getting sent to prison for life. It was one of those sickening reports that just builds and builds and makes you feel nauseous that you live in a world where such things could happen.

      A clear articulation of the constant right of parole, and a serious application of that right to all inmates, would go very far towards healing the damage a single prosecutor can do.

      • Nick never Nick
      • John F

        ‘collateral homicide’ (or whatever they’re called)

        It’s a variation/extension of the Felony Murder rule- in general term is that a death caused during the commission of a felony is Murder even if there was no intent to kill- for instance in NY part of the rule was/is:

        3. Acting either alone or with one or more other persons, he commits or attempts to commit robbery, burglary, kidnapping, arson, rape in the first degree, criminal sexual act in the first degree, sexual abuse in the first degree, aggravated sexual abuse, escape in the first degree, or escape in the second degree, and, in the course of and in furtherance of such crime or of immediate flight therefrom, he, or another participant, if there be any, causes the death of a person other than one of the participants…

        he, or another participant, if there be any, causes the death of a person…

        That rule is still on the books, but now it’s an affirmative defense if you were not the actual killer AND you were not armed AND had a reasonable belief that your accomplices were not armed and no one would get killed…

  • q-tip

    Crime and punishment are questions where the “well, it’s complicated” cop-out is the most honest answer – I think.

    I’ll paraphrase two relevant opinions I heard from students during my last week teaching juvenile convicts – these guys think about criminal justice issues all the time, being in the thick of it::

    1) Bloodthirsty wishes for justice for Nazi war criminals. We watched a re-enactment of the trial of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their White Rose co-conspirator, where Hans says “You may hang us today, but you’ll hang tomorrow.” The kids were disappointed to hear that the judge, Roland Fleischer, escaped hanging at Nuremberg when he was killed by a bomb dropped by the 8th USAF. On an emotional level, I share their regret, and it’s hard – but not impossible – to reconcile with my opposition to the death penalty.

    2) That suicide is preferable to LWOP. They heard about the fate of the Facebook killer, and a popular opinion was that his suicide during the standoff with the cops was the smart choice.

    I suspect that given point 2 both the death penalty and LWOP escalate violence, but that given point 1 it is very difficult to give up execution as an option for the worst of the worst.

    • jamesepowell

      At work today, two people were very angry that the facebook killer committed suicide. They wanted something more. I didn’t ask.

  • BillWAF

    In either December 1984 or 1985, a 63 year old criminal was released from Attica. Within a few days (it may have been on the same day as his release), he had robbed a bodega in Washington Heights, murdering the store owner in the process. Forgive if I have more sympathy for the victims.

    • Origami Isopod

      One case doesn’t prove anything.

      • Warren Terra

        Don’t you understand? Bill has a single 30-year-old anecdote with most of the details missing, so it must be impossible to promote prisoner rehabilitation, to assess the current behavior and state of prisoners in the context of their sentence and their past actions, and to release the more convincingly reformed prisoners in the context of support and monitoring.

        • Crusty

          No, the important point here is that Bill is more righteous than the rest of us.

        • BillWAF

          I remember the case because I was in Columbia Law School at the time. Later, I became a criminal defense attorney. I remember asking an attorney who had worked with Ivan Fisher representing Jack Henry Abbott if he though that Abbott had been treated badly. David said that he felt badly for Abbott, but he felt a lot worse for his victims. That impressed me. The innocent victims deserved more sympathy than Abbott.

          I remember visiting a client at the MCC in Manhattan a number of times. On more than one occasion, one of the suspects in the murder of Officer Byrne — Philip Copeland if I remember correctly — made sure that I got a chair when the room was crowded. He was just misunderstood. (For some odd reason, my wife does not believe that. Maybe it is because she went to NYU Law School with Officer Byrne’s brother and was later in the US Attorney’s Office with him.) Don’t get me wrong, I liked Copeland. I liked getting a chair.

          I know of at least one case in which the cops committed perjury to get a conviction. However, I have also met monsters.

          Unlike you Warren, I do not find the need to brag about it. No doubt you have had a fascinating legal career and every defendant that you have met was a misunderstood angel.

          I admit that I no longer recall the details of the Washington Heights case because I was in law school at the time and I did not work on it. However, at the time, I did follow the case. I remember thinking the killer would make a great character in a third rate novel.

          • Warren Terra

            This is the same as before with more macho posing and appeals to authority.

            Once again: the question is not whether all murderers should be released. It’s not even whether more murderers should be released. It’s whether it’s just to preclude the possibility of reform and release, and secondarily whether it’s just to engineer prisons so as to make reform unlikely.

            Your response is that some murderers shouldn’t be released, and moreover some particular murderers were released wrongly. That is, tragically, true. But it’s not responsive, unless you want to join yet_another_lawyer in just lining up and shooting everyone convicted of murder.

            • BillWAF

              As a general proposition, I do not like the death penalty. I have been involved in at least one case in which an innocent person has been convicted. I also know of another in which the defense attorney believed his client to be innocent. In view of who the attorney was, I am inclined to believe that he is correct. Fortunately, neither case was a murder case.

              Strangely enough, I would have thought that my experience constituted evidence. Furthermore, I would have thought that referring to evidence was not merely appealing to authority. (Of course, citing evidence is a form of citing authority.)

              Oddly enough, I do not believe that my comments were particularly macho. That said, I cannot wait to hear about Warren’s brilliant legal career or perhaps the great research that he did into those convicted of murder. How did I ever hope to work in the profession without his insight?

              • Ronan

                but what is your solution then? your initial comment implies you would never leave any murderer out of prison, or else why tell that story?

                • BillWAF

                  I believe that life imprisonment without parole is reasonable as long as there is a pardon power that may be used without too much difficulty. I have only practiced law in New York and New Jersey, but I understand that in some states, the governor may not simply pardon someone. Instead, a board or some other authority must also act for the pardon to become effective. That is simply too hard. It would be too easy to block a deserved pardon.

              • Crusty

                You seem like a dick.

              • Warren Terra

                I am not a lawyer. I haven’t made any argument that requires a knowledge of the law or the legal system; I’ve argued entirely from first principles.

                You on the other hand have made things resembling arguments that draw from single tragic instances to imply sweeping if contradictory conclusions. I’m not sufficiently informed to know whether this practice represents very good or very bad legal argumentation. I can tell you I don’t find it convincing, and see it as a tactic to forestall reasoned conversation.

                • BillWAF

                  You know nothing about law or the criminal justice system. If you are not a medical doctor, I cannot wait to hear your insights into surgery.

                • Warren Terra

                  You seem nice.

      • yet_another_lawyer

        Accepting that one case doesn’t prove anything, there are documented instances of killers being released for “good behavior” then killing again.

        So, accepting that as a risk: What’s the upside here? We release a murderer and they… what? Cure cancer? Solve hunger? Hell, I’ll settle for “one time this guy rescued this other guy from a burning building.” If the downside risk of releasing a murder is “they may kill again,” then what are the rest of us getting as a potential outside for letting them out? Be specific.

        • Malaclypse

          We treat another human being as though they were a human? We live in a society that does not treat a large portion of the population as though they were violent irredeemable animals, incapable of normal human change?

          • yet_another_lawyer

            The number of people who have ever murdered is a tiny, tiny fraction of the population. We should not gratuitously punish them but, at the same time, their actions have demonstrated that they are willing and able to murder. If the modal response to murder is, “You’ll get three meals a day and most likely die of old age,” then we are already treating them extremely leniently– and, in many instances, more leniently than they would treat you if they were lucky enough to get out.

        • McAllen

          Why don’t we just lock up every criminal for life, using this logic? That heroin addict’s probably not going to cure cancer. That repeat shoplifter’s probably not going to solve world hunger.

          • McAllen

            But, since you’er insisting we find some benefit to society, maybe a child won’t have to go without their parent their whole life if we release a murderer. Maybe a community will have another member who can be a part of it contribute to it. It’s not only the Einsteins and Salks of the world who are valuable.

            • yet_another_lawyer

              But, since you’er insisting we find some benefit to society, maybe a child won’t have to go without their parent their whole life if we release a murderer. Maybe a community will have another member who can be a part of it contribute to it. It’s not only the Einsteins and Salks of the world who are valuable.

              Sure… but if the downside risk is “he might kill again” and the upside is “idk, maybe he’ll be part of a community somewhere,” then the upside and downside risks are comically mismatched. In particular, it’s not clear to me if on average a child is actually better off if their murderer parent gets out of prison and is suddenly inserted into their lives. Oh, and in the interim the murderer you so compassionately released might choose to deprive someone else of their parent.

              Again, maybe it can be justified… but given how lopsided the payoffs are, you have to be pretty goddamn sure. Like 99.9999% sure.

              • Bill Murray

                but, almost anyone might kill, and very few have significant benefit to society. In systems that work towards rehabilitation rather than retribution, recidivism is much less than in the US. Maybe treating people as if they are humans would work better than locking everyone up for what they might do

                • yet_another_lawyer

                  Somebody being locked up for murder is not being locked up for what they “might” do but, rather, for what they have actually done. And while almost anyone “might” kill, someone who has already chosen to murder someone is far more likely to choose to murder someone than an average member of society.

                  Also, to the extent the recidivism rate is high among released murderers, then the rather obvious solution is not to release them to murder again.

                  Finally, someone being imprisoned for their choice to murder someone else is being treated as human. Part of the human condition is living with the consequences of your actions. If they did not want to be imprisoned for murder, then they should have considered that before they chose to murder someone.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            If the heroin addict injects heroin again, the societal harm is minimal. If the shoplifter shoplifts again, no big deal. If the murderer murders again, then it’s a massive human tragedy. Maybe you can justify it, but I think the non-murdering portion of the population should view this proposition fairly skeptically.

            • McAllen

              But what if the heroin addict or shoplifter murders after they’re released? Certainly you see a lot of murderers who were first locked up for smaller crimes. Wouldn’t it have been better for them never to have been released?

              • yet_another_lawyer

                This is categorically different, for at least two reasons:

                1) Because while it’s true that most murderers were caught for smaller crimes first, it’s also true that most people who commit smaller crimes never murder. It’s a far more reasonable expectation that someone who chose to murder before would choose to murder again.
                2) Society’s legitimate interest in retribution is much higher for someone who has already taken a human life than it is against someone we suspect might.

                This is, of course, harsh on murderers. That is one of the many unpleasant consequences of choosing to murder someone, which perhaps they should have considered before they chose to murder someone.

        • Warren Terra

          If you want to bring back 19th century British custom and simply execute most every murderer and many another criminal because they’re irredeemable scum, just say so.

          Expressed in a less incendiary fashion (somewhat): you seem to want all (?) murderers never to be released, because better all should remain in jail than any should kill again. No-one wants murderers free to roam the streets, but the system you seem to be advocating for leaves no room for the consideration of special circumstances, nor for the possibility of rehabilitation. Do you really feel there are no people convicted of murder who could, decades later, assessed and then released in the context of a support mechanism? Because that’s the corner you’re painting yourself into, and it’s a corner featuring a giant placard saying “Exterminate The Brutes”.

          • yet_another_lawyer

            I would be in favor of a strong presumption of no murderer ever getting out, either by operation of the DP or LWOP (murderer defined as “actually murdered someone” and not murder by operation of the felony murder rule).

            Yes, yes, there can be special circumstances and rehabilitation, but there are some crimes where the presumption is overwhelming that they should never get out. In the event the finder of fact gets it wrong, there’s both an appeals process and a pardon process. Layering on top of that a mandatory parole process (which is the natural corollary of no such thing as LWOP) where the murderer gets to say “I feel really bad about it” and/or “I had a really bad childhood” is a waste of time for both the victim’s loved ones and the state.

            • Warren Terra

              This still amounts to shooting everyone who’s convicted of murder. I suppose you’d be nice and let them lodge an appeal first.

              How about, instead, we work to heal the society? This can mean more to reduce violence, especially lethal violence, and to provide opportunity. It definitely means reforming our prisons so they’re no longer violent hellholes. And it means that the prisoners have to have some belief that good behavior and demonstrable sanity and a reformed character might get them a chance to rejoin society, monitored and with support available.

              Because otherwise we’re stuck with your prescription that we take these people and execute them, either quickly or slowly. Because it’s easier. But if we do that to them, what other burdens and risks do we confront similarly? Do we euthanize the long-term unemployed? The disabled? Do we nuke Raqqa?

              • yet_another_lawyer

                This still amounts to shooting everyone who’s convicted of murder. I suppose you’d be nice and let them lodge an appeal first.

                I’m fine with a strong presumption that murderers never walk free. You choose to murder, you pay the piper.

                How about, instead, we work to heal the society? This can mean more to reduce violence, especially lethal violence, and to provide opportunity.

                I have a great idea to reduce lethal violence: Prevent people who have already committed lethal violence from doing so again by detaining them in some sort of facility. If someone murders, make it so that they may never murder again.

                It definitely means reforming our prisons so they’re no longer violent hellholes.

                That would be great but difficult. Ideally, only violent criminals would be imprisoned, which kind of means that prisons are going to be more violent than average.

                But if we do that to them, what other burdens and risks do we confront similarly? Do we euthanize the long-term unemployed? The disabled? Do we nuke Raqqa?

                No no and no. None of that flows logically from “hey, maybe we should keep the guy who already chose to murder from murdering again.”

          • efgoldman

            released, because better all should remain in jail than any should kill again. No-one wants murderers free to roam the streets, but the system you seem to be advocating for leaves no room for the consideration of special circumstances, nor for the possibility of rehabilitation.

            In the system we have, not the emulation of some more humane European system we might like to have, in point of fact almost no rehabilitation takes place in prison. Prisons are understaffed (and staffed by sadists); the current political climate is, and has been since Sanctus Ronaldus, tilted extremely hard to the “let ’em rot and croak the rest” side; probation offices are severely underfunded, undertrained and understaffed; parole boards and public defenders the same. Despite what we see on teevee, most parole hearings are pro forma bullshit, and most criminal cases involve plea bargains. Prisons in the US are mostly training schools for young criminals. Hell, a substantial number of our prisons are privately run for profit, with all that implies.
            There is no constituency to fix it, either.

  • Hallen

    I guess I’m probably a rarity here in that, in principle, I support having a death penalty. (Not just for murders; there are cases of rape and, yes, cases of large-scale economic crimes where the damage is so severe that it would justify killing a person in retaliation. On the other hand, not everything in those categories, perhaps especially murders, should trigger the death penalty, especially those committed while young–and by that I mean more like “under 25” than “under 18.”) And I’m generally a death penalty supporter, even if I’m not terribly pleased with the way American jurisdictions tend to dole it out.

    For one thing, it should require a higher evidentiary standard, something like “near-ontological certainty” or “beyond a shadow of a doubt” or whatever you want to call it. For another, I’ve never, ever understood the desire for fancier death-dealing technologies: what in the world is wrong with the guillotine or a bullet to the back of the head, at least in comparison to chemical cocktails, the subjective effects of which are difficult to surmise? I mean, we at least more-or-less know what happens, subjectively, when you blow someone’s brains out. The answer to my rhetorical question, of course, is that guillotines and gunshots are perceived, emotionally, as more “barbaric,” because there’s splatter involved. But the result is the same: a foreclosure upon a human being’s life.)

    Yet at the same time, I think it’s a very, very important point to make that life without parole is, essentially, the death penalty by way of torture, and I am categorically not ok with torture as a form of punishment. (I think it’s pretty worthless in other situations too, but at least waterboarding, e.g., Al-Qaeda members has some kind of rationale beyond causing pain.)

    Calling it “torture” is especially true in the context of the American criminal justice system, which is fucking awful. Ideally, we’d have something very much akin to the Norwegian model, except with executions for beyond-the-pale offenders, i.e. Breivik.

    Anyway, my attachment to the DP is not so great that I’m not at least a little bit intrigued by the argument that its existence allows far worse abuses to go unreformed, because everyone’s emotional energies are channeled toward the fact of a few executions a year, rather than the grotesque systemic dehumanization of prisoners that goes on every day. If you got rid of the DP, but we got the other reforms, I’d surely be okay with that. (Of course, by the same token, I also think it’s one of the several issues my fellow Democrats could stand to deprioritize. See also guns.)

    • John F

      in principle, I support having a death penalty.

      I believe that, to quote Perry Farrell, some people should die, but also believe that people/society suck really badly at determining who those people are.

    • Roberta

      My main objection to the death penalty in America is that in practice, it seems to be motivated by racism. There are theoretical non-racist justifications for it, but the driving political force behind it seems to be racism. Given that, I just can’t support it.

      I suspect if we really had the non-racist, sparingly-used death penalty that you describe, it would be much less popular because it wouldn’t be giving most aggressive death penalty advocates what they want.

      Of course, you can say similar things about the prison system as a whole, but since I’m not a prison abolitionist I do think some kind of prison is necessary. I don’t think the death penalty is necessary, even if I have no theoretical objection to it for Breiviks and Roofs.

    • Bill Murray

      The answer to my rhetorical question, of course, is that guillotines and gunshots are perceived, emotionally, as more “barbaric,” because there’s splatter involved. But the result is the same: a foreclosure upon a human being’s life.)

      No the answer to your question is that the older methods are considered cruel and unusual and are hence unconstitutional

      • Hallen

        Huh? I don’t believe any particular method of execution has ever been ruled unconstitutional. Heck, hanging from the neck until dead is still, technically, within the bounds of the 8th Amendment, and is theoretically still a possibility in a couple of states.

  • njorl

    “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. – Dostoevsky”

    I think life without parole makes an accurate statement about us. It might be nice if the rest of our society was so civilized that LWOP was an isolated stain upon us, but it isn’t. I hope someday that won’t be true, but it isn’t happening soon.

    I think the prevalence of brutality and rape in prison is beneath us. It should be considered a stain upon each of us that we tolerate it.

  • e.a.foster

    I don’t know if its genetic or something in the water in the U.S.A. but they are always very keen on punishment. Why they want to sentence any one they can to life without parole is beyond me, especially children. of course the majority of these people are people of colour so I’d suggest a lot of this has to do with racism.

    In Canada, first degree murder is life with eligbility for parole at 25 years. Only the very weird stay in jail forever, usually just the serial killers or mass murderers. Once they are out they are on parole for the rest of their lives, but our country hasn’t gone down the toilet and our murder rate is much lower than the U.S.A.s. Kids who are charged with murder are sentenced to no more than 10 years in a youth facility and serve 6 years. If a youth is tried as an adult, they can be sentenced as an adult but remain in a youth detention centre until they become an adult. It is extremely rare that a youth is tried as an adult. Canada is doing just fine. People are not being murdered by these young people once released.

    The need for Americans to extract some sort of weird punishment is just plain bat shit crazy. Sentencing a 13 yr old to jail for the rest of their life? what for? ever heard of rehabilitation? jailing people for life is incredibly expensive and gains society nothing. Most people are over whatever led them to murder after 25 yrs and its best to release them on parole its better for them, their families, society in general and the tax base.

    • efgoldman

      Once they are out they are on parole for the rest of their lives, but our country hasn’t gone down the toilet and our murder rate is much lower than the U.S.A.s.

      Without any stats to back me up, I think a huge component of the difference is the availability, pervasiveness and fetishization of firearms on the South side of the border.

  • Warren Terra

    Seems relevant:

    Charges Dropped Against Former Death-Row Inmate Rodricus Crawford

    Louisiana prosecutors have dismissed charges against a man who spent nearly five years on death row for his baby son’s death before a court threw out his conviction.

    • bs

      I’m surprised that this is the first mention of innocent people on deth row. I’m surprised one of the more bloodthirsty commenters hasn’t gone with the old Guantanamo standby: they might have been innocent when we put em in here, but now that we’ve tortured em for years, they’re bound to fuck some shit up if we let em out. So, LWOP for the innocent too.

      • Brett

        Don’t give the two Throttle-Jockey sock-puppets any ideas.

It is main inner container footer text