Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Watch As Our Prison Costs Go Up

Travis Baumgartner was sentenced today.  He was sentenced to the equivalent of "40 years to life" for a bloody robbery that left three dead.

Previously, the standard sentence that Baumgartner would have received was "25 to life".  That was until the Harper Government passed a law which changed the sentencing rules for multiple murders.  Once a prisoner had served 25 years of their sentence in prison, they became eligible to apply for parole.  Baumgartner will be in his late sixties before he is eligible to apply for parole.

It seems to me that this more than a little bit pointless.  All it does is ensure that Baumgartner will be incarcerated for longer - at taxpayer expense.

This is somewhat pointless in my view.  If, after 25 years, Baumgartner is no threat to society, what is to be gained by incarcerating him for another fifteen years?  Precious little.  If he is a murderer as appalling as Clifford Olson or Paul Bernardo, then the parole evaluation should identify that and deny parole.

The notion of justice is complex and subtle.  It is a balance between rehabilitation and punishment.  Incarceration is, in our legal system, a legitimate form of punishment.  To make incarceration so severe that a prisoner has very little chance of being released before they are truly aged serves little real purpose.  What incentive is there for Baumgartner to put in the work to rehabilitate himself?  Precious little at this point.

Victim's rights groups bleat incessantly when an offender applies for parole - especially when that offender has been as high profile as Clifford Olson was.  They complain that even having a parole hearing is some kind of violation of the victim.  Perhaps it is, but I don't think that's really the case.  These people more often than not have confused justice with punishment.  Nothing can undo what has been done.  The world doesn't work that way.  But there is little to be gained by locking someone up indefinitely.

I'm not arguing that Baumgartner doesn't deserve a stiff sentence.  Nor am I arguing that at 25 years he should be paroled automatically.  I simply do not believe that some kind of injustice has been done because he can apply for parole at 25 years.  Even if he is paroled at 25 years, he remains under supervision for the rest of his life.  That's a pretty short leash, in my opinion.  Does that mean that Baumgartner will commit no further crimes once released?  No guarantees there, but justice isn't about guarantees.  It is about appropriately balancing punishment with rehabilitation.  People are not something that you can just "throw away".

Along with mandatory minimum sentences, this is another piece of the Conservative "tough on crime" nonsense which does nothing for society except increasing the taxpayer bill for prisons.

Ask yourself this - would you rather spend money on incarcerating criminals or would you prefer to see those funds used for public education or health care?  The United States has already tried this experiment.  It is now a country with the greatest percentage of its population either incarcerated or under "supervised release" (aka Parole or probation).  States like California have been driven to the brink of bankruptcy by these laws and the heavy handed approach to sentencing that they demand.

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