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Oldie, 4/9/09: Locking KIDS up for life - it's just plain wrong.

I read this story on CNN.com a couple of days ago and have been waiting for a less-busy day to sit and cogitate on it -- I knew it would end up as a blog post.

I've watched our society become more and more punitive and unforgiving over the last 35 years or so. It's time we got down to what lies at the bottom of it.

Here's one bottom dweller:

Jennifer Jenkins, who co-founded the National Organization for Victims of Juvenile Lifers. The Illinois-based group has fought legislation in nine states that would remove sentences of life without parole.


It wasn't this quote that got me into Rant mode:
"Victims have the right not to be constantly revictimized," she said.


It was this one from another bottom-dweller,
Harriet Salerno, president of Crime Victims United of California, a group trying to block the passage of laws that would ease sentencing for juveniles.

She founded the victim's group after her daughter, a pre-medical student, was murdered at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in 1979.


"Many of them have dysfunctional homes, and the crimes will escalate because there is no place to put them." [emphasis mine]

Here's another gem from Ms. Salerno, not a direct quote:
Salerno, of Crime Victims United of California, said that some juveniles can be rehabilitated but that some committed crimes so severe, resources shouldn't be wasted on them.


The story also notes, significantly, that not all of these life sentences are for murder. Armed kidnapping and rape are heinous crimes, for sure, but combine the fact that the victims survived with the age of the perpetrator and it's enough to make you want to bang your head.

Here's what I'd like to say to Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Salerno:
Your statements reflect fear. No doubt, when you lose a family member to homicide, it changes your worldview. But what I'm hearing from you is, even a perpetrator such as Quantel Lotts, who committed a one-time offense and has demonstrated remorse -- the victim's family is even working toward his release -- should be kept behind bars forever because he frightens you.

I'm more than happy to endorse a two-strikes-and-you're-out policy. A person who commits a crime in the heat of passion, or out of a warped value system (such as gang involvement) has the opportunity, while in prison, to ponder his fate and his alternatives. The penal system needs to get back to the business of rehabilitation, BUT, even a typical stretch in a state prison can motivate a reasonable individual to resolve to stay out following release. It's a tough road, but not a non-existent one. So a willful reoffense, to me, does deserve the old lock-'em-up-and-throw-away-the-key. Absolutely.

But to condemn someone to life in prison when there's no indication that he intends to pick up where he left off the second the gate slides open is short-sighted and self-indulgent. It's also a flagrant misuse of power. We might as well throw socioeconomic and racial bigotry into the mix, since it is there in the quotes for all to see.

I don't like what our society has become.

I don't like the vilification of people such as Michael Shane Lasseter, who make goofy mistakes and are held up as the epitome of evil. Once again, we have a pattern: Because of Lasseter's foolish and unthinking actions, coming less than 2 months after the 9/11 attacks, a lot of people got scared. Nobody got hurt. But the guy was made to suffer excessively, in my opinion.

I don't like the fact that you can say the phrase "I could kill you for that" and run the risk of having someone file charges against you. Just the other day at work, I called a customer and left a voice message that part of the problem I'd called him about earlier had resolved itself on its own after we spoke. When he called back, he said "I'm visualizing my hands around your neck." Twenty years ago that phrasing would have been recognized for what it was: ironic humor. Nowadays, it takes courage or naivete to say something like that. People go to prison for saying things like that.

We live in a crazy world. Gradually, the "good guys" are morphing into the villains.

Jennifer Jenkins and Harriet Salerno frighten me.

Let's lock 'em up.

End of rant... for now.

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