I knew that the American Northeast is soft on crime, but it seems that the rot is spreading. The North Carolina prison system is releasing twenty prisoners who have accumulated a total of 256 infractions. We think of infractions as things like like not feeding the parking meter or sneaking bottles into the regular trash. In prison, "infractions" are usually plain old crimes, often heinous felonies.
The prisoners scheduled to be released this month owe their freedom to a lawsuit filed by double murderer Bobby Bowden, who challenged a law defining a life sentence as 80 years. The court decision cut life sentences in half and resulted in the application of "time off for good behavior" and a laundry list of other sentencing reductions.
Who is being released, and what did they do? Associated Press reports as follows.
"Bowden had argued before the Court of Appeals in 2008 that he had accumulated 210 days of good conduct credit, 753 days of meritorious credit, and 1,537 days of gain time credit. But the 60-year-old has also racked up 17 infractions in prison, including two for weapon possession, one for damaging property and several for disobeying orders.
Others have equally long rapsheets: William Baggett, a 60-year-old convicted of a 1976 murder in Sampson County, got a fighting infraction last year - his fifth fighting offense while behind bars. Kenneth Mathis, a 55-year-old who went to prison in 1976 after forcing a woman into the woods and raping her, has had three sex infractions in prison. He was accused in 2005 of assaulting an inmate with the intent to commit a sexual act."
It is clear that extremely violent prisoners are playing the system. A guy who is used to shanking someone who looks at him funny is likely to have anger management issues on the outside.
There is a very easy solution to violent prisoners. Treat all prisoners like citizens and human beings. That means that they should expect to be treated like human beings and to accord such treatment to others. A prisoner who extorts canteen money from a weaker prisoner should be convicted of the same crime he would be convicted of if he extorted money in Scarsdale or Beverley Hills. The term "infraction" should be trashed. The proper word is "crime". There should be courts holding session in prison for crimes committed in prison. The sentencing should be as severe as those given on the "outside". And guys like Kenneth Mathis should be getting consecutive sentences for crimes committed in prison.
Enforcing civility in prison is a prerequisite to rehabilitation. If it means hiring more guards or redesigning prison space, then do it. We will pay one way or the other.
There will be a majority who will welcome peace and safety. But there will be a minority of prisoners who are hooked on violence. They will need to be isolated in prisons designed to keep guards and less violent prisoners safe. Supermax prisons such as the one in Florence, Colorado or Marion Illinois might be good places for the minority of truly dangerous prisoners. Perhaps some demonstrably incorrigible prisoners should be executed.
Sentences are handed out to reflect public concern and indignation There is nothing wrong with judicially tempered revenge. Giving the force of law to righteous indignation helps keep society safe.
It might be desirable to expand our use of alternatives to prison. Enforced restitution and residence in therapeutic communities might be far more suitable for non violent offenders and those with substance abuse problems. Rehabilitation and restitution are not always best accomplished in prison.
Seeing prisoners as human beings means judging them by the same standards we judge ourselves. Distorting moral clarity by using words like "infraction" is an insult to the humanity of prisoners who must live with the climate of violence that we tacitly cultivate.
I am not optomistic about the North Carolina prisoners due to be released this month. It is probably a matter of time before they rob, rape or kill again. If we cared about these men when they were behind bars and took their offenses there seriously, we would not be discussing this latest menace to public safety. The crimes that will likely be committed by the violent men due to be released in North Carolina are predictable and preventable . When we as a society nurse the wounds of recidivism, it should be borne in mind that they are self inflicted. It is time for this to change. Sphere: Related Content