We sentence more people to more time than we used to, she says, not because it serves any rational purpose but because we've largely abandoned the idea of sentencing based on rehabilitation and specific deterrence. Instead, judges now sentence based on retribution. The main goal of sentencing is no longer to keep us safe but to punish.
Three decades ago, we considered rehabilitation and specific deterrence to be more important than retribution. And while there were unquestionably problems with that approach, at the very least it enabled a discussion about what punishments made sense to ensure public safety, to minimize recidivism and to balance all of the purposes of sentencing. In addition, it permitted criminal justice experts in various fields – including judges – to participate in a meaningful discussion about crime.And weigh in everyone did.
But in the 1980s rehabilitation was discredited. On the eve of sentencing reform in the federal courts, one scholar wrote: “What works? Nothing!” – although he subsequently amended his views. The sentencing focus shifted for the most part to a single purpose: retribution. And for that purpose there were new “experts”: the public. If the most important question had become, “What punishment fits this crime?” Everyone could weigh in.
Now, if all you're concerned about is satisfying public anger or distaste or temper or disgust, if the desire to punish is what drives the system, well, there's no top.
- Gee, if that guy only got five years then surely this guy should get 10.
- life and the then death
- death and then life
Gertner spreads the blame, putting much of it on the media for feeding the public a string of lies and misrepresentations convincing them that tougher, ever tougher sentences are necessary.
By the late 1980s, crime issues were part and parcel of the political debate — think of the role of the Willie Horton ads in the 1988 presidential election. A decade later came the shock jocks and 24/7 pundits. What the public thinks about the crime, and thus what the criminal “deserves,” came to be shaped — indeed inflamed — by the press.
Meanwhile, criminal justice experts were sidelined. As Duke University law professor Sara Sun Beale argued in the aptly titled 1997 article “What’s Law Got to Do With It?” — criminal justice policy is largely driven by the media. The good news of falling crime rates over the past two decades was rarely reported; the nightly news famously reflected the principle, “if it bleeds, it leads.” The result? Popular punitiveness trumped everything, whether or not it bore any relationship to good public policy.
Gideon and Greenfield use Gertner's piece as a template, agreeing with and extending her anger. Matt Brown shares their view, giving it the dynamic touch of moving from the abstract argument to the concrete reality with the story of a supposed honor killing of a young woman and its aftermath. (I've edited slightly and removed links.)
Her father had apparently became enraged by her lifestyle, which by all accounts seemed to be typical of American girls her age. He ran her over with his SUV in a shopping mall parking lot, and the he fled. Based on the theory that it was a premeditated murder to preserve family honor, prosecutors charged him with first degree murder. He went to trial and was convicted not of the most serious charge, but of the lesser-included offense of second degree murder in addition to counts involving aggravated assault and leaving the scene of the accident.Which you'd think might be enough. But no, Matt quotes Detective Chris Boughey.
This is where the case ties in with the posts mentioned above. You see, on April 15, 2011, the judge sentenced him to 16 years on the second degree murder count consecutive to 15 years on the aggravated assault count and 3.5 years on the two leaving the scene of an accident counts. The total sentence was 34.5 years, and he was 50 years old at the time of sentencing. Arizona isn’t like other states where a sentence ends up being a lot less than it might seem. Second degree murder requires flat time. The other counts likely require that he serve 85% at the very least. His exact release date, will be June 13, 2041. He will be over 80 years old. Given the typical impact imprisonment has on longevity, he is effectively serving a life sentence.
I wasn't happy. Still not. Never will be.Why?
He got off easy, as far as I'm concerned.Really? Because he could have gotten more time?
Because life isn't long enough? I've discussed impossible sentences more than once. (See here, for just one instance.) There are the folks sentenced to repeated executions, to death and then life (or perhaps the other way around), to sentences of multiple century's duration.
To what end?
Is there a lesson, a moral, even a meaning to a sentence that simply cannot be served? Hard to see what it might be. Those extra years are numbers for the sake of numbers.
But if we try for some sort of rational sentencing scheme, well then we have actually to figure out what makes sense.
Which requires thought.
And attention to actual evidence rather than spittle.
Sadly, that means we have to deal with the American public which, as Gertner and company point out, isn't really all that concerned with evidence.
After all, the world looks flat.
And the Bible says the world was created in 7 days, so there.
And women don't get pregnant from legitimate rapes, which are kind of like premarital sex.
And Custer died for all of us and Lubbock is ground zero for the UN invasion.
And then there's Osama. You know, the dead guy. The one the dems are crowing about having killed. From Blade Slices, the politics blog Tom Troy writes for the Toledo Blade.
In its poll taken in Ohio Sept. 7-9, PPP says it asked the following question:
Q15 Who do you think deserves more credit for theThe answers from Republicans were:
killing of Osama bin Laden: Barack Obama or
Barack Obama................................................ 38%The answers from Democrats were:
Mitt Romney.................................................... 15%
Not sure .......................................................... 47%
Tom (and PPP) wonder about the numbers from among the Republicans and conclude that they just won't give Obama credit for anything. That's probably a fair reading of the 38%. More troubling, though, is the other 72%, and the 14% among Democrats.Barack Obama................................................ 86%
Mitt Romney.................................................... 1%
Not sure .......................................................... 13%
Because even if you don't want to give Obama credit, how can you be confused or uncertain about whether Mitt had more to do with it unless you're either wholly ignorant or thoroughly gulled?
And, of course, some of those folks are going to be electing our judges, sitting on our juries, and telling the world that 25 years just isn't enough time for a guy who drove drunk and didn't hurt anyone.