Wednesday, August 17, 2011

SB9 Discussed in Today's Chronicle

This morning's Chron features a front-page discussion of Senator Leland Yee's SB9, which would allow juveniles sentenced to life without parole to have their sentences reviewed by a judge.

This is a very tame, limited version of the proposal.

The California measure, which Yee has tried to make law several times before, is not as ambitious: It would let inmates, after 15 years behind bars, petition the court to change their sentence to 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole. That means that even if the court agreed to modify a sentence, there is no guarantee the inmate would get out: The offender would have to wait until 25 years have been served, then could appeal to the state's parole board for release. To request a reduced sentence, the offender would have to "describe his or her remorse" and prove he or she has worked toward rehabilitation.

Interestingly, as is often the case with parole-related proposals, the possibility that someone who maintains his or her innocence might want to make use of the review mechanism is not even considered.


Tom said...

Parole or this review process wouldn't be the appropriate venue for people who claim innocence though, would it? It would be more appropriate for them to seek appeal or habeas. They'd be out in a lot less than 25 years then. Parole starts with the presumption that the inmate is guilty, but that they have been reformed or are no longer dangerous, and thus the correctional process has achieved its goal. Continuing to maintain innocence in the face of upheld convictions beyond a reasonable doubt is a sign of recalcitrance or denial, and means that the inmate hasn't quite got that ol' contrary streak worked out of them quite yet.

"We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul.... The command of the old despotisms was 'Thou shalt not'. The command of the totalitarians was 'Thou shalt'. Our command is 'Thou art'. No one whom we bring to this place ever stands out against us. Everyone is washed clean." - O'Brien to Winston, 1984 by George Orwell, Part 3, Chapter 2.

Hadar Aviram said...

Were the appeal or habeas processes generally open, accessible, and successful, I would agree, and analytically it would be the suitable mechanism. But the realities of long-term imprisonment, given what we know about the exoneration process in practice, are that many people who are estimated to be factually innocent end up NOT being officially exonerated/pardoned, but rather quietly paroled, because the system does not want to deal with the mistakes that put them there. There are numerous examples of this. One lamentable example is the folks who did NOT commit sexual crimes but are still on the sex offenders list after being released because no one wants to look into the police/prosecutorial corruption that landed them in prison in the first place. Parole is perceived as the quiet, back door out of this situation: We'll let the person go free and move on as if nothing happened.

The question of remorse is a tough one, and I say this having represented several people who insisted on their innocence throughout the process and were rebuffed by the system. To them, to pretend remorse for something they firmly maintained they did not do would be hypocrisy. The material question, for a utilitarian system, would be whether the person is dangerous or not. Risk assessment could include remorse, but remorse is by no means the sine qua non of rehabilitation. A person maintaining her innocence can also be a model prisoner, engaging in volunteer programs, having a strong support system outside, and in many other ways having strong prospects of rehabilitation.