Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More on the Garrido Horror and on the Assembly's Decision

The new coverage today of the Assembly's downsized inmate release plan has been even more disheartening than the original reports. Gone is the hope for a sentencing commission that would make sense out of our patchwork sentencing regime. What gets to me today, however, are the readers' comments to the Chron report. Here is one such example:

We need the names of those released, so the Democrats can be held personally responsible when these criminals rob, rape, and murder the tax-paying citizens of California.

As countless studies have recently shown, when the public is educated about sentencing alternatives and costs, there is much less punitivism. What is going on, then? Well, apparently many Californians see the image of Phillip Garrido, Jaycee Lee Dugard's kidnapper and tormentor, when they think of these released inmates -- disregarding (or not knowing) the actual details of the plan, which would lead to the release of non-violent inmates, and probably not of sex offenders. This trend would be in keeping with the tradition of generalizing punitive opinions from rare, outlying, sensational cases. The victims' names on invasive, punitive litigation initiatives are sad memorials - the legal equivalent to the Mexican descansos - of horrible, yet uncommon tragedies, commemorated in an unsuitable way. But rather than a flower wreath or a wooden cross on the side of the road, these sad memorials derail our policies in the majority of cases that do not follow those patterns.

Incidentally, the institutional embarrassment of Garrido's unspeakable crimes while under supervision may have led CDCR to publicize the part played by parole officers in his capture. My colleague Jonathan Simon, over at Governing Through Crime, has some interesting thoughts to offer on the fallacy behind the assumption that the typical protocols of supervision would have led to Garrido's capture. And I would like to add, for those who insist to generalize from atypical cases, the Garrido case might be a lesson about the futility of universal parole, and an argument on behalf of limiting its scope.

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