Friday, June 17, 2011

Bad Ideas

They still call it the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.  And rehabilitation remains, in Ohio, one of the things that courts are supposed to take into account if necessary in imposing sentences.  But neither rehabilitation nor correction is an actual "purpose" of sentencing here.  Instead sentences are to - hell, I'll just quote the statute:
(A) A court that sentences an offender for a felony shall be guided by the overriding purposes of felony sentencing. The overriding purposes of felony sentencing are to protect the public from future crime by the offender and others and to punish the offender. To achieve those purposes, the sentencing court shall consider the need for incapacitating the offender, deterring the offender and others from future crime, rehabilitating the offender, and making restitution to the victim of the offense, the public, or both.
(B) A sentence imposed for a felony shall be reasonably calculated to achieve the two overriding purposes of felony sentencing set forth in division (A) of this section, commensurate with and not demeaning to the seriousness of the offender’s conduct and its impact upon the victim, and consistent with sentences imposed for similar crimes committed by similar offenders.
See, that rehabilitation and correction thing - not so much.
And even though most of them are still formally named the somethingorother Correctional Facility, we don't think of them much as penitentiaries (places for penitents) but as prisons.  They're warehouses.
Yesterday, the unanimous Supreme Court said (Tapia v. United States) that federal sentences, more precisely federal prison sentences, should have no relationship to rehabilitation.  That wasn't necessarily the view of all the Justices.  We don't know what they think individually.  They were channeling Congress.
Section 3582(a), the provision at issue here, specifies the “factors to be considered” when a court orders imprisonment. That section provides:
“The court, in determining whether to impose a term of imprisonment, and, if a term of imprisonment isto be imposed, in determining the length of the term, shall consider the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation.”
A similar provision addresses the Sentencing Commissionin its capacity as author of the Sentencing Guidelines. The SRA instructs the Commission to:
“insure that the guidelines reflect the inappropriate-ness of imposing a sentence to a term of imprisonment for the purpose of rehabilitating the defendant or pro-viding the defendant with needed educational or voca-tional training, medical care, or other correctional treatment.” 28 U. S. C. §994(k).
Which is really about all you need to know.
The law was different.  The idea was that because nearly everyone sent to prison would someday be released, a major purpose of prison sentences was rehabilitation.  That was the point behind indeterminate sentences and letting the parole board decide when someone was safe to be released. 
But then we changed our minds.  The feds did it through the Sentencing Guidelines.  Ohio didn't adopt the same sort of guideline system, but it had the same idea.  Forget that rehabilitation shit.  If prisons want to work at that, fine, but we don't care and don't believe in it.
We just want to punish.
Lock 'em up.
Throw away the key.
Warehouse them.
Except, you know, most prisoners are still released.  It's just that their release bears no longer even a theoretical relationship to whether they're rehabilitated.
And that's how we want it.
But then, we're really stupid.

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