Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Media — Rick Moran @ 11:12 am

The headline from this New York Times article that analyzes how many prisoners sentenced to life in prison are never paroled had me scratching my head trying to figure out what the point was:

To More Inmates, Life Term Means Dying Behind Bars

I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough to follow the Time’s reasoning here. If a “life term” doesn’t mean “life term,” why give one out in the first place.

The Times explains:

But now, driven by tougher laws and political pressure on governors and parole boards, thousands of lifers are going into prisons each year, and in many states only a few are ever coming out, even in cases where judges and prosecutors did not intend to put them away forever.

Well, that explain everything! When judges and prosecutors want to pull the wool over our eyes and give some violent criminal a wink and a nod about his incarceration, they sentence him to what should be called a “not really for life” life sentence.

My jaw dropped a little lower after I read this:

Indeed, in just the last 30 years, the United States has created something never before seen in its history and unheard of around the globe: a booming population of prisoners whose only way out of prison is likely to be inside a coffin.

I hate to seem like an idiot but when someone convicted of a particularly heinous crime - one where a life sentence is either mandated by law or given by a judge in lieu of the death penalty - where is the societal interest in letting these people out of jail so that they can potentially prey upon other people? The New York Times is certainly being free and easy with other people’s lives and well being.

Is it the Times contention that most of these people are innocent? Not at all. What the Times is saying is that habitual offenders just aren’t being released to prey upon the rest of us like they used to in the good old days of liberal ideas regarding our penal system.

Fewer than two-thirds of the 70,000 people sentenced to life from 1988 to 2001 are in for murder, the Times analysis found. Other lifers - more than 25,000 of them - were convicted of crimes like rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, extortion, burglary and arson. People convicted of drug trafficking account for 16 percent of all lifers.

Here are a few facts and figures that the Times evidently missed in it’s research for this article:


Rates of Recidivism of State Prisoners - Rearrest Rates by Most Serious Offense for Which Released

Homicide: 40.7%
Kidnapping: 59.4%
Rape: 46.0%
Other Sexual Assault: 41.4%
Robbery: 70.2%
Assault: 65.1%
Other Violent Crimes: 51.7%

In summary, 67.5% of violent criminals were rearrested within 3 years of being released for a new crime. This is a point made by the Times article, albeit with the caveat that those who spend a long time in prison tend to be less enamored of criminal behavior. And of course, it just doesn’t look good when compared to our betters over in Europe. In fact, it must be downright embarrassing for the Times editors when they attend those cocktail parties with their European counterparts:

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group that issued a report on life sentences last year, said that about a fifth of released lifers were arrested again, compared with two-thirds of all released prisoners.

“Many lifers,” Mr. Mauer said, “are kept in prison long after they represent a public safety threat.”

In much of the rest of the world, sentences of natural life are all but unknown.

“Western Europeans regard 10 or 12 years as an extremely long term, even for offenders sentenced in theory to life,” said James Q. Whitman, a law professor at Yale and the author of “Harsh Justice,” which compares criminal punishment in the United States and Europe.

Don’t you feel a lot better knowing that there’s “only” a 20% chance that a violent criminal will either kill again or rape again, or commit some unspeakable act against you or a loved one?

For you see, the Times likes those odds. Sounds about right…2 out of 10 ex lifers who, despite spending a couple of decades behind bars, are willing to recommit crimes for which they were sent up in the first place.

What do you suppose the chances of any New York Times editors being affected by those 20% of criminals who end up killing or raping or assaulting you or your loved ones? Which is the point, of course. Better to look good in the eyes of the rest of the world than keep us safe.

There’s a reason people are sentenced to life in prison. And while there may be a few exceptions to the so-called “Three strike” rule in sentencing (and these should be dealt with on a case by case basis) the fact is that sentencing guidelines are in place because too many judges and prosecutors think like the editors of the New York Times; that criminals are in jail not because they’re horrendously violent sociopathic thugs but because they are misunderstood by society or that they’re the wrong color or that they’ve spent time in jail and have actually “reformed” and gone straight.

This kind of thinking caused crime to skyrocket in the 1960’s - 1980’s. It wasn’t until legislatures and the Congress passed mandatory sentencing laws that crime finally began to drop. Yes judges complain they have little leeway in sentencing anymore. But that decision wasn’t taken in a vacuum. It was because judges routinely abused their positions to foist their ideas about crime and society on the rest of us that those laws were passed in the first place.

I have no doubt some lifers, if released, would make solid citizens. But until we come up with a way to positively identify those people - an almost certain impossibility given that it would require both a working crystal ball and the ability to read minds - I recommend we keep people who have been sentenced to life in prison right where they are thank you.

Knowing they are in there and I am out here helps most of us sleep more soundly at night.


John Cole had a similar thought when he saw the Times headline.

Also, go Inside Larry’s Head and read Larry Bernard’s thoughts on this.

Cole just IM’d me to say when he read the headline he spit milk through his nose. For me, it was hot coffee - not a pleasant experience.


  1. What I don’t understand is this: were they trying to pick a *sympathetic* example? Surely they could have done better than that …

    Comment by Knemon — 10/2/2005 @ 5:29 pm

  2. The simple fact that crime is down while the prisons are full is proof that locking up people who commit crimes is an effective way to prevent future crimes. The looney left CANNOT understand that the reason crime is down is because those who committed lots of crime are behind bars. Really. It’s not that they just won’t admit it, they really don’t understand it. Hence, they agitate for releasing prisoners because crime is down.

    They cannot get beyond this question, which they invariably ask, “If crime is down, then why are we locking up so many people?” They get the verb wrong, and they don’t realize it. Crime is down because we “have locked up” so many people, not because we “are locking up” so many people. They also get the noun wrong. Crime is down because we have locked up so many “criminals”, i.e “people who have been convicted of committing crimes.”

    Comment by anonymous — 10/2/2005 @ 8:02 pm

  3. The Times article further exemplifies why there is a very good reason the left is called the hand-wringing segment of our political society. Trouble is, they wring their hands over those issues which most on the right consider to be proper and just for good, correct, truthful reasons.

    Comment by Jim King — 10/2/2005 @ 8:44 pm

  4. Years ago a lawyer friend told me that in practice “life” meant unless you were paroled.

    The law is full of words and outright falsehoods that the layman seldom notices.

    e.g. Pardoned felons can say they have no convictions.
    Birth certificates of adoptees say they are the natural children of those adopting them.
    After your criminal records are expunged you can lie to your hearts content, and even sue anyone who tells the truth.

    The rules vary by state. So I don’t say all these things happen always or everywhere. But don’t expect facts from legal or government documents. They only reflect what the law, often with good intentions, puts in them.

    Comment by K — 10/2/2005 @ 9:29 pm

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  6. I am opposed to a mandatory life sentence for any crime. Before you get your dander up though, I am Pro death penalty. I feel that a life sentence does not give the criminal a reason to reform. Punishment is the job of prisons, and reform is the responsibility of the individual. I would mandate a maximum single sentence of 20 years, and a max combined of 25. If a person cannot be adequately punished in 25 years they should be executed and hastily. I am against lethal injection, unless the injected lethiality is a 180 grain hunk of lead. The constitution says cruel AND unusual. Too many of our judges are too stupid to comprehend the diffrence between the words AND & OR. I believe in sentencing guidelines and that any sentence that is a downward departure from those guidelines constitutes aiding and abeting and should be prosecuted.
    The death penalty should be mandatory in all cases of 1st degree murder, forcible rape, kidnaping, and child molestation.
    I also believe in the execution of three time felons, and that they should be executed in a manor that is inhumane. I would also require that they be executed in front of the prison population.
    Last, I would make a mandatory death sentence for prison revolt and insurection, including jail breaking.

    Comment by Jeremy — 10/3/2005 @ 12:00 am

  7. Isn’t the reason for the decline in crime rate due to women are legally extermininating future criminals? You mean all this time crime may actually be in decline because criminals are actually kept in prison? I suppose the NY Times needs to let those criminals out in order to sell a story. One day the NY Times will face a devastating conflict, how will they sell news if humanity actually achieves useful idiot Utopia?

    Comment by susan — 10/3/2005 @ 5:03 am

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