Monday, October 15, 2012

The Metaphorical Life In Prison

For Victim and Perpetrator:

When the Supreme Court in June banned life sentences without parole for those under age 18 convicted of murder, it offered rare hope to more than 2,000 juvenile offenders like Mr. Bailey. But it threw Ms. Jamriska and thousands like her into anguished turmoil at the prospect that the killers of their loved ones might walk the streets again. 

The ruling did not specify whether it applied retroactively to those in prison or to future juvenile felons. As state legislatures and courts struggle for answers, the clash of the two perspectives represented by Mr. Bailey and Ms. Jamriska is shaping the debate. 
Much as I predicted when I wrote about the case in the summer. The Court's reticence to make its decisions retroactive when it comes to crime and punishment almost always ends in precisely this: a big fight at the state level about what to do, coupled with impassioned pleas from the offenders who want out, and a re-victimization of the victims' families as they relive the crime and testify against the defendant in a "parole" hearing they never anticipated.
The United States Supreme Court decision said that sentences of life without parole for juveniles failed to take account of the role of the offender in the crime (killer or accomplice), the family background (stable or abusive) and the incomplete brain development of the young. Recent research has found that youths are prone to miscalculate risks and consequences, and that their moral compasses are not fully developed. They can change as they get older. 

But Kristina’s sister, Ms. Jamriska, said there was no escaping the brutality of the crime and its premeditation. As she put it: “There are many ways of dealing with pressure. You can run away. I don’t care if you’re 5 or 50, you know that killing is wrong. If you murder your girlfriend and unborn baby, I don’t know if you can come back from that.”

She added that she felt that much discussion of juvenile crime shied away from the horrors of the acts. “They often show pictures of the killers looking like kids who could be trick-or-treating,” she said. 

Ms. Jamriska, 41, who works in marketing for medical equipment, is active in a group of families of victims, the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers. She said that such offenders received almost no rehabilitation in prison and that letting them out was not only unfair to victims’ families but also posed a risk.
I'm not sure about the latter (hypothetical recidivism is a lousy way to fashion criminal sentencing), but I think there is some truth that most of these offenders have not received any kind of meaningful rehabilitation. Of course, no one has receive meaningful rehabilitation in prison in the last 30 years, so get in line, but I think "lifers" in particular are usually denied even rudimentary education or skills training since the presumption is/was they weren't going anywhere.

As much as the victims have a point in all of this, I would view their re-victimization less the result of the Supreme Court and more the legacy of the get tough stupidity of the 80's and 90's. Had these asinine and unconstitutional "juvenile super predator" and "adult crime/adult time" laws never been written, the victims' families wouldn't be undergoing the trauma of reliving these crimes over again in courtrooms or legislative committee hearing rooms.

The imprisonment of grief is the direct responsibility of every politician in the 80's and 90's who ever authored, co-authored or voted for one of these lamebrain laws.

No comments: