Friday, September 21, 2012

Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan Publicly Endorse SB9

Wow! Talk about narrow coalitions! First we get Pat Robertson's enthusiastic support of marijuana legalization, and now this: Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan offering support for Senate Bill 9, which would allow for resentencing youth who have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Their op-ed in the U-T San Diego explains:

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store. None of them is armed, and there is no plan for violence. Then it all goes haywire. The clerk pulls a gun, and one of the kids tries to grab it away. In the struggle that ensues, the gun goes off and the clerk dies. 

Under California’s “felony murder” rule, every person involved in that crime, no matter how minor their role, is equally guilty of murder, even if they did not plan or expect a murder to occur. According to the fiction of our law, the lookout is as much to blame as the person who pulled the trigger. About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death. Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release. 

But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves? 

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it.

This op-ed joins a long stream of previous statements from conservative politicians who express a willingness to deviate from the traditionally tough-on-crime stance on the right. And notably, while there is a savings strand here, there is also text about compassion and humaneness. Good stuff.

Cross-posted to PrawfsBlawg.

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