Friday, February 10, 2006

Shout out to Radley Balko

Radley Balko, who runs The Agitator and who broke the Cory Maye story about a person wrongfully convicted and death-sentenced in Mississippi, was in our office today. He was talking with my colleagues about how to advance the Cory Maye story among grassroots activists. The Cory Maye story has the ability to bring progressives, libertarians and conservatives together because it involves both misappropriation of police power (they served a warrant on the wrong house) and evidence of wrongdoing by police and possibly others.

So, shout out to Radley. And keep up your good work!

Oh, and you can sign the petition to free Cory Maye here. 645 signatures as of this posting.


Patrick Townson said...

This will be sort of long, and it is my intention to say why I do not believe either very long prison sentences [such as, for example, a 'life' sentence, or 50 years or similar] is ever appropriate and why a 'death penalty' sentence is generally wrong without the explicit consent of the person being executed.'

First of all, if a person does not know what prison is about the first day he gets sent there, it is doubtful he will know about it twenty or thirty years later.

If a prison is going to serve any therapeutic purpose at all -- and that was the original meaning of the wordpenitentiary -- a place to hopefully practice and become penitent or sorry and ashamed of one's behavior, that cannot happen as they are run now.

Assuming that the anti-social behavior Vernon and other prisoners similarly situated are accused of is correct -- a big 'if' in many cases and assuming our overall intention is to rehabilitate if all all possible such persons then why are we tossing them in together in a penal setting? If we were sick for any reason, we would go to a doctor for treatment, a personal and private matter. We would not sit around in the doctor's waiting room spreading our illnesses around to others also waiting.

First. let's consider length of time in prison, and let's call our prisoner Mr. John Doe. This is just my personal opinion, but I believe most prisoners either will or will not be rehabilitated in a period of several months or perhaps one or two years, max. But John Doe should receive intensive therapy during that period and not be routinely in association with other prisoners. His therapists or teachers would provide him with a modicum of ways to survive in the world. For some (many? most?) prisoners things like teaching them to read and write (both skills woefully lacking in many prison populations) would be important. So many people in the outside world do not realize that often as not, crimes (at lesst crimes of violence -- about the only ones which call for prison punishment) are not committed by people who wake up one day and say "I am going to go out and rip off some old lady's purse for the hell of it" or "I am going to go out and buy drugs (rape/molest, etc) someone for the hell of it". If people came out of prison having learned from the experience and with a job waiting for them and a family and a home, chances are they will not go back to prison.

So it may be too much to expect of the Corrections Industry, which, after all, depends on its livelyhood by taking in as many prisoners as possible, but I would definitly try to set my aim at keeping folks out of repeat visits -- recidivism -- to prison. You make their necessary visits to same short, and sweeet and heavy on therapy. Prisoners do not need to associate with each other as a routine thing. Whatever got me here to prison is none of your concern, nor is whatever happened in your life any concern of mine. Mostly I would keep prisoners isolated in their cells for that reason. Our purpose here is to repair your life style, not have inmate social events like basketball games, movies, free time to chat with other inmates, etc. Of course that is assuming you are giving the inmates short, more bearable sentences. We are not planning to keep you here for ten or twenty years, we are talking about keeping you here for six months to a year. We want you to get out while memories of the world as you knew it are still fresh in your mind. I would rather have you back in the world for a fresh start while the technology and your work skills were still relevant if I am to have any hope at all that you will not re-offend.

Now I sort of approve of the 'three strikes and you are out' concept. Our fictional prisoner, John Doe came in prison the first time with a relativly clean sheet as those things go. Some minor offense ... but under my proposed system there would be no probation, no court supervision, etc; I would just say penitentiary for one and all. John Doe serves his three or six months in an intensive setting, hopefully never to return. A big task in his final month or two of incarceration would be to insist he have employment somewhere on his release, support from his family if he has one and housing. I dare say the authorities could issue him a debit card with several hundred dollars on it to 'tide him over' through getting a job and an apartment, etc.

I know the Illinois Department of Correction would never go along with this; they earn their living by having the same old repeat offenders back all the time, but at least some correctional officials are not as corrupt as the ones in Illinois.

Now our John Doe did not quite catch the routine the first time around and he gets sent back a second or a third time. On his second and third time around, the time of incarceration grows a little, and we continue his therapy where it left off the first time. Now he has been in prison three times, each time for sort of heinous crimes ... and he gets convicted a FOURTH time, for something simple and basically not too offensive, such as shoplifting.

I can hear your complaints now: a Four Time Offender! Some would propose executing him, but I suggest this: Any judge in any court would have the authority to suspend the 'three strikes' rule for a fourth time. As a therapist for John Doe while in prison, my inclination would be to congratulate him, "Good John! You have started to learn your lesson haven't you? Before your crimes were quite heinous, now this time around you are just into petty stuff again!" (For murders and other violent crimes I would not just give six months or one year sentences; maybe three or five year sentences to start with.)

After three times around (or a fourth time if any judge used his discretion to allow it; concievably even a fifth time if the crime was 'petty enough' and approved by a relatively high court) now here comes John Doe back again:

At this point we say to John in effect like this: "John, you have claimed your innocence a few times, and we have tried to work with you. Now, we have reached the point where we can do so no longer. Maybe it is our own shortcomings as a society, God help us, or maybe in fact you have been guilty even once or twice? of the various offenses charged to you. But in any event you can no longer be part of our society ever again. So within the next thirty days you have to reach a decision or we will reach one for you.

You can either decide to accept the remainder of your life in prison -- in a warehouse setting -- with others who have chosen the same thing, or you can be put to death, you will make the choice. You can choose to be hung, to be gassed, electrocuted, or lethal injection, as you wish. If you require us to make the choice, we will use 'lethal injection' because our experts have told us that is the least painful and vindictive, but we would prefer that you choose, a method of death or permanent incarceration in a warehouse like setting. You can even commit suicide at any time during this month if that is your choice. We are not trying to 'get even' John, it is just that in our own human limitations we see no way to work with you any further as a member of our society.

During this final month of your
'semi freedom' you will be locked up here, but you will have any books or other literature you wish brought to you at any reasonable hour. You will have a telephone at your disposal, and John, we strongly encourage you to seek counsel from your friends and family on what to do. You can be in contact with your attorney as you wish, or perhaps your pastor or other advisors. But John, we must order you to make absolutely no contact with the families of your victim(s) or otherwise abuse your telephone priviledges. That will cause you to lose the use of the telephone.

In the event we were somehow wrong or you wish to seek pardon for your crime(s), your attorney will know the procedure to use if you call him.

And John, your choice is due in thirty days. If, during that thirty days we find you dead in your cell,we will know you chose the way to end your dilemma. If we do not find you dead, then on day thirty we will ask for your answer, and lacking recieving same we will use lethal injection. If we receive an answer from you about your preference, you may assume it will be handled that way within a few days of that point.


Now I do not know about the other readers here, but given a choice of being executed (or committing suicide) or life in prison, I would be inclined to go with the former, since death -- as awful, I suppose as it would be -- still does not scare me nearly as much as a lifetime in prison.

Public responses welcome.

Patrick Townson

the tennessee dude said...

i do not disagree with your logic ... however, executing people requires public consent as well - it's done in our name and with tax dollars collected from average folk as well ... aside from the context of human rights violations the question is, as of right now in this country, do we want to continue to condone the state imperfectly exercising its authority to selectively (randomly?) kill individuals or not? if you do, just say so - i'm not gonna come get you and "execute" you for taking a clear position ... i am gonna call you on the carpet for taking 15 paragraphs to make one simple clear point ... what is this, a graduate class???

seriously, helen prejean gets this one right i think ... we're gonna have to, as a collective society, walk down the path of having LOTS of 70 and 80 year olds in prison and what that will cost us fiscally (not to mention spiritually) before the long prison sentence issue gets addressed in a serious manner in this here empire in decline ... we do however have an emergent opportunity to rid ourselves of executing human beings as a matter of public policy...adn that, i believe, is an opportunity NOT to be passed on...