200 Years Or Life In Prison. Whichever Comes First.

Bernard Madoff, the noted swindler and con-man, was recently sentenced to 150 years in federal prison.  The BTK killer in Kansas netted ten consecutive life sentences - one for each of his ten murders.  And Arizona high school teacher Morton Berger was sent to the pokey for 200 years for possessing twenty pornographic pictures of children.

150 years?  Ten consecutive life terms?  200 years?  What the heck is going on?  Are judges on crack?  "Bailiff, prop up the dead defendant so that we can beat him some more."  Are these judges insane?

Actually, everybody else is crazy and the judges handing out these sentences are perfectly sane.

Suppose you get into a fight with a hobo over a Twinkie.  "Get your filthy paws off my Twinkie, you damn dirty hobo!" you shout as you pummel him (and, really, who wouldn't fight to the death over a delicious dessert cake?)  Unfortunately, he dies and you get sent to jail for life.  You are bummed that you're incarcerated, but you don't despair.  You quietly bide your time in the Big House, knowing that it will only be 20 years or so before your life sentence is over and you are released.  In most jurisdictions, "life" does not equal "the rest of your life" but "some long time until we either get too crowded or the parole board forgets what you did and lets you go."

There are many Americans who like to point out that the United States is one of the few remaining Western countries to still employ the death penalty.  They like to try to make us think that it makes us uncivilized and barbaric that we still end the lives of the worst of the worst.  Yet despite all their attempts to shame us, support for capital punishment is very high.  Why is that?

The answer is simple and clear: Blame the bleeding heart liberals that we still have the death penalty.

Say what?  Liberals are to blame for capital punishment?

Absolutely.  Americans are many things, not the least of which is forgiving.  We tear our heroes down and then celebrate their comebacks.  We root for David to bring down Goliath, but then cheer when Goliath does the talk show circuit to discuss his failures and how much he has grown from them.

Yet we support putting murderers to death, despite our proclivity to forgive.  Why?  Because the criminal justice system cannot assure us that the big bad people who killed our friends and neighbors won't be separated from us for the rest of their lives.  Far too often, a heinous murderer is released before he is dead, even though he was sent to prison to live out the rest of his natural life.  

Too many bad guys have gotten out of jail while still young enough to commit more crimes and cause more trouble, despite the prior life sentence given to them.  Early release because of "good behavior", parole, clemency, pardon, or court-mandated overcrowding solutions has allowed more than one murderer to re-enter society and kill again.

And that is something that the forgiving American People can never forgive.

By and large, we don't enjoy seeing anybody die, even hardened criminals.  But when given the choice of putting a murderer to death or taking the (pretty good) chance that he'll be released from prison some day, we are opting for the former.  If we could be assured that a life sentence means "until you die in prison" support for the death penalty would dry up instantly.  Until then, judges will keep trying to find all sorts of ways to make sure that bad guys stay in jail, like sentencing them to 200 years.

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This page contains a single entry by Louis Core published on August 13, 2009 4:59 PM.

Are We Alone? It Sure Does Look That Way was the previous entry in this blog.

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