Last month, when Glenn Ford was released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the state of Louisiana “gave him a $20 debit card for his troubles.” That, plus the four cents he had left in his prison account, was all he had.
How do you build up the material accumulations of a lifetime overnight? How do you do it with no money? Where do you even begin?
Ford’s friend John Thompson had a clever idea: Do what millions of Americans do when they are hoping that other people will buy them a whole bunch of stuff. Build an Amazon registry.
The Amazon Wish List is here.
Read the whole piece here.
Regarding my earlier post about the case of Robert H. Richards IV, who was sentenced by a Delaware judge to probation rather than incarceration for his heinous crimes, I should clarify that I think the punishments meted out to other offenders are symptomatic of our narrow way of thinking about justice and that our criminal justice system has a wide variety of blemishes (that I’ve written about on this blog for years; peruse the “criminal justice” tag to find hundreds of such posts).
Should poor people spend their lives in terrible conditions in our prisons? They should not. Should minorities? They should not. Should the rich get all the breaks? Clearly, no.
The fact that Richards was not sentenced to spend his life in terrible conditions in a prison doesn’t somehow suggest that it’s right that anyone should. Nor is it right to say that he ought to be made to suffer more since others from different backgrounds and walks of life have been sentenced to do so.
The point of my original post was not to laud the light sentence that was handed down in Richards’ case or to applaud the lenient treatment afforded to the wealthy and/or white offenders in our society at the expense of the poor and people of color. It was instead to argue against the notion that justice can only be served by doling out suffering.
I’m also not arguing that this case is an example of restorative justice; I don’t believe this was a restorative sentence and I don’t believe that we’re anywhere near a place where offenders are being successfully rehabilitated or getting proper treatment or reintegrated into society. The point of the post was merely to suggest that calling for a long and suffering-filled prison sentence for offenders doesn’t accomplish anything and keeps us far away from even approaching a more restorative understanding of justice.
As I wrote at the end of my post:
Restorative justice isn’t about leniency for offenders; it’s about discovering and attempting to meet the needs of victims while encouraging offender accountability. It’s just not clear that lengthy prison sentences under the worst possible conditions accomplishes either of those things.
I completely understand the gut feeling that something terrible ought to happen to a person who harms a child; as a father myself, I’m disgusted and outraged by this man and what he did to his children. But that doesn’t mean we ought to turn that feeling into policy, especially if doing so accomplishes nothing more than making the public feel good about getting vengeance. Taking out our collective wrath on offenders doesn’t necessarily do anything to help their victims, nor does it automatically lead to offender accountability. Working to accomplish those things, rather than to sate our desire for vengeance, would likely result in a radical change in the way we think about justice and punishment, and the way we respond to crime.
Well here’s an inventive idea: Homicide Insurance.
If you “have to” use your weapon in Florida, this company's “hand picked lawyers will represent you in any legal proceeding (criminal or civil), for zero additional attorneys’ fees.”
And, best of all, it only costs you $10.95 a month!
It costs a bit more if you’d like to add family members (including minors!) to your plan. There’s also the multi-state option, in case you “have to” use your weapon in a state other than Florida.
WIth all the anger directed toward those poor unfortunates who “have to” use their guns, you can’t afford not to buy into the Firearms Legal Defense Program!
Now you can feel safe about standing your ground and firing your weapon at anyone, whether he’s walking home from the store, having a BBQ in his own backyard, texting his kid at the movies, or listening to music too loudly in his car.
You shouldn’t have to ask yourself about the repercussions of shooting someone before you open fire and, thanks to this affordable program, you don’t have to!
Last week, I wrote a little bit about an interview with Rebecca Roache in Aeon Magazine in which she seemed to endorse making punishments for prisoners as harsh as possible. I focused on the idea that I felt was at the heart of the interview, namely that offenders need to be made to suffer for their crimes and that sometimes offenders “get off easy,” either because prisons are simply too cushy, because they are put to death in a supposedly humane manner, or because they are able to live in prison (no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the prison) while their victims are suffering or no longer living. Here’s Roache in the interview:
Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?
But I soon realised it’s not that simple. In the US, for instance, the vast majority of people on death row appeal to have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment. That suggests that a quick stint in prison followed by death is seen as a worse fate than a long prison sentence. And so, if you extend the life of a prisoner to give them a longer sentence, you might end up giving them a more lenient punishment.
She goes on from there to talk about life-extension and the sticky philosophical wicket of continuing to punish someone who is 900 years old for an offense that took place hundreds of years ago.
A friend of mine, Drew Jacob, wrote a thoughtful critique to which Roache responded this morning. The crux of her response looks like this:
Had I anticipated the attention this would get, I’d have been at greater pains to emphasise that the point of the paper I’m writing with my colleagues Anders Sandberg and Hannah Maslen is not to cook up new ways of making people suffer, but to consider how developments in technology might interact with our punishment practices. That doesn’t just involve thinking up new methods of punishment, but also considering how technological developments might force us to question existing practices. (The point of my remark about life sentences was not that increasing prisoners’ lifespans might make their sentences more lenient and that this would be terrible, but that it’s actually unclear whether a longer life would make a life sentence more or less severe, and whether it would be permissible (I think not) to withhold lifespan enhancement technology from prisoners.) I don’t endorse any of the methods mentioned in the interview.
That’s all well and good, but what isn’t discussed here or in the interview is what I consider to be the most important point. That is, everything in the interview focuses on retribution and suffering; some crimes, Roache says, “require a really long period of punishment.” If those offenders seem to prefer a long period of punishment to death, then they should be killed or else there should be a way to make the long period of punishment worse. This is the way that both Roache and her interviewer are thinking about crime:
There is a long-standing philosophical question as to how bad the prison experience should be. Retributivists, those who think the point of prisons is to punish, tend to think that it should be quite unpleasant, whereas consequentialists tend to be more concerned with a prison’s reformative effects, and its larger social costs. There are a number of prisons that offer prisoners constructive activities to participate in, including sports leagues, art classes, and even yoga. That practice seems to reflect the view that confinement, or the deprivation of liberty, is itself enough of a punishment. Of course, even for consequentialists, there has to be some level of suffering involved in punishment, because consequentialists are very concerned about deterrence.
But this isn’t the only way to respond to crime, nor is it — I think — the best way. Why not, instead, think about ways for the offender to make things right (or, at least, better) for the victim or co-victims? Rather than focusing on paying the offender back in kind, why not ask whether doing so accomplishes anything for those who have been harmed? Why not consider how to achieve offender accountability and rehabiltation while also meeting the needs of victims? These are the questions at the heart of restorative justice and they are questions that would lead to an entirely different conversation between Roache and her interviewer.
If we’re only concerned with the punishment and suffering of offenders, then it makes sense to consider how altering offenders’ brain chemistry or lifespans might make their punishments more or less severe. But if we’re concerned with righting wrongs, rehabilitating offenders, and meeting the needs of victims, then it becomes fairly uninteresting to ask, as Roache does, “whether it’s inhumane to inflict a certain technology on someone” because her question presumes the point of criminal justice to be the infliction of harm by the state on those who have committed offenses and does nothing to address the wrong that has been committed or the victims of that wrong.
The DNA Testing Act gives inmates access to evolving scientific technology, but it was not intended to allow an inmate a second chance to perform DNA testing which was available at trial.
That’s Nebraska Supreme Court Judge Michael McCormack, writing for the court in a decision to deny an inmate’s request for DNA testing of evidence in a 2007 murder for which the inmate is serving life in prison.
So … rather than allowing a couple of tests that will help determine whether or not Antoine Young committed the murder for which he’s serving life in prison, the Nebraska Supreme Court is arguing that he should have asked for the tests back in 2008.
They’re right: His lawyer should have done so. But if the DNA Testing Act can’t account for mistakes made by lawyers, and potentially keeps innocent men in prison because of those mistakes, there’s a problem with the law.
As for Young, maybe he’s innocent, maybe he’s guilty … but it doesn’t much matter to the judges. Their job isn’t to make sure an inmate has access to any evidence that might raise doubts about his guilt; their job is just to determine whether or not the state, which has an interest in not considering any more evidence in this case, is following the law as it avoids doing so.
Glenn Ford is living proof of just how flawed our justice system truly is. We are moved that Mr. Ford, an African-American man convicted by an all-white jury, will be able to leave death row a survivor.
That’s Amnesty International USA’s Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris, in a statement on the release of Glenn Ford yesterday after nearly 30 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Apart from the obvious problem of innocence highlighted by this case, the death penalty more generally is racist, arbitrary, unfair, immoral, and a violation of human rights. It is bad public policy and ought to be abolished in the states that have, to this point, stubbornly maintained it on the misguided belief that vengeance and justice are the same thing.
I’m not sure the death penalty has really been on the national radar since the execution of Troy Davis back in 2011, but I’m pleased to see CNN producing a show on the topic. My hope is that it sparks a conversation about the many ways in which the death penalty is a miserable failure and why our society is better off without it.
Judging from the comments [don’t read the comments!] on the stories on CNN’s website right now, though, I think death penalty opponents are going to need more than an hour-long CNN special report because people who love the death penalty don’t really know much about it, but they definitely know they love it when someone gets executed and they don’t much care about anything beyond that.
Florida: Where the Stand Your Ground law will always agree that a white guy had a good reason to murder a black teenager.
Seems like this guy would’ve been in the clear if he’d managed to kill everyone in the car since the jury couldn’t decide on the one murder charge but had no trouble with all the attempted murder charges.
The whole situation is so incredibly disturbing for so many reasons. Not the least of which is how often this kind of thing keeps happening.
I’ve now watched the first two episodes of HBO’s new anthology series “True Detective” and all I can say is that it’s truly boring.
I was really excited for this show … and then I fell asleep three times during the series premier two weeks ago. In the second episode, as far as I can recall, absolutely nothing happens. The show looks really great and the whole thing is based on a smart idea, but I find myself continually checking how much time is left … and not in a good way.
I’m going to keep watching because I can’t stop something once I’ve started it and because there are only six episodes left.
But my goodness this really didn’t live up to all the hype.