Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Inflicting Justice

Yesterday, Gideon told the story of Cornelius "Mike" Anderson, currently spending 13 years in the embrace of the Missouri Department of Corrections for an armed robbery he participated in back in August 1999.  He was convicted and sentenced in 2000, so he should have gotten out a bit ago except for one thing.  An oopsie.

Missouri lost him.  As in, they didn't bother to come and get him, so he decided to turn his life around. Gideon tells the story.
Anderson, who filed appeals and remained out on bond, was never taken into custody to start serving his sentence when all his appeals were denied. In an interview with ‘This American Life‘, he says:
he saw it as a sign from God, so he decided to transform his life. He went to school, became a master carpenter, got married, built his home, opened several small businesses and had four children. Anderson volunteered at his church and coached his son’s football team.
. . .
Nine years went by, however, and no one ever put the pieces together. Meanwhile, Anderson remained in St. Louis, never changed his name, registered three businesses through the state, paid taxes, maintained a Missouri driver’s license, and got married at the courthouse. He did not attempt to hide his presence in any manner.
Ironically, the DOC only realized he wasn’t actually in custody when they started planning his release from said custody.
It was, of course, a total cock-up.  Jessica Lussenhop in the Riverfront Times last month.
As part of Anderson's final appeal in 2004, an attorney named Michael Gross appeared on Anderson's behalf in Judge Rauch's court. They were joined by prosecutor James Gregory to update her on the status of the case — Gross had just filed the brief with the first line that read, "Movant is not presently incarcerated."
"[Gross] said the prosecuting attorney jumped up in court and said, 'Oh no, Mr. Anderson. We checked this morning. He's in Fulton Correctional Facility,'" recalls Anderson. "And so my lawyer thought that I had been arrested then. A day or two later, I called him up to see how court went, and he was like, 'Wait a minute, you're not in custody?' And I said, 'No!'"
Gross declined to discuss Anderson's case in depth but confirmed that Gregory "popped up" in court claiming Anderson was already in prison.
"At the time I assumed that he had more current information than I did, because it had been several days since I talked to Cornealious," remembers Gross. "That didn't prove to be the case."
So there you have it.  Missouri is incompetent.  Anderson is not just rehabilitated, he's a valuable, functioning, responsible,  asset, to society.  Who they're locking up for the next 13 years because . . . .

Because he owes them those years, that chunk of his life.  Because he did a bad thing 13 years ago, and he has to be made to suffer.  After all, how else will he rehabilitate himself?  Oh, wait, the prisons in Missouri are run by the Department of corrections.

So let me take you now from Missouri to Ohio where our prisons are run not by the Department of Corrections  but by the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.   Which sounds pretty good, although our legislature has made plain that we have no interest in rehabilitation.  Here's section 2929.11 of the Ohio Revised Code, captioned "Purposes of felony sentencing."
(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 using the minimum sanctions that the court determines accomplish those purposes without imposing an unnecessary burden on state or local government resources. 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.
(C) A court that imposes a sentence upon an offender for a felony shall not base the sentence upon the race, ethnic background, gender, or religion of the offender.
Notice that there's not one word about rehabilitation in there.  Oh, sure.  The vast majority of the people we lock up will eventually be released to again prey on suddenly become productive members of society - because that's what people just naturally become after years of.  Well consider the surprise of Warden Albert Gunderson of New York's Woodbourne Correctional Facility as reported in The Onion.
It just doesn’t seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society.
What's that you say?  The Onion is satire?  They make the news up?  Shit.

As I keep saying, grace and mercy are about us, not them.  But even if you think they need to be earned.

The right thing, the decent thing, the sensible thing, the humane thing, is for Missouri to say,
Gee, Anderson.  We're sorry.  We fucked up.  You've spent 13 years with a cloud hanging over your head, everyday knowing that your life could be totally fucked up in a moment.  Yet never trying to hide or escape.  You've demonstrated in that time that rehabilitation works.  You've become the sort of person we can be proud to have around.  Now, go back to your family and your life.  
Or, of course, Missouri can say,
OK Anderson.  We don't give a flying fuck about any of that shit.  Sure you're a fine guy now, but the asshole stuff you did 13 years ago requires that we treat you like pond scum, ruin your life and your family's, and learn that all we care about is pain and vengeance. Ain't no room for human decency here. This is about inflicting justice.  Bend over and spread 'em.


  1. Not that it matters, but for accuracy. The Ohio statute that you quote does include, rehabilitating the offender, under part A.

    1. Yeah, there is a word. You're right. On the other hand, the "overriding purposes" are not rehabing. And it's just one among several other things that a court ought to sorta maybe pay a bit of attention to.

      Beyond that, the law basically says that judges in fact do all those things unless they declare that they did not. Which is a legal fiction worthy of its own blog post. But not tonight.