Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Terminally Ill Susan Atkins Parole Denied

I know that several of my readers have disagreed with me on my stance on the death penalty in the past. I have attempted to articulate my reasoning for being against it in the past. One one hand, I understand the arguments for it. I do think there are many cases whereby execution is well-deserved. On the other hand, there are two reasons I am against it:

1. It gives those that deserve it an escape. By that I mean, I think it's better to be put to death than to sit in prison for the rest of one's natural life.

2. Of all of the penalties meted out by our criminal justice system, it is the one that has the greatest potential for abuse by the state, should the state ever assert itself in creating a true despotic regime. One only need look at post-revolution France, to see what I mean.

Today, there is a report that Manson family member Susan Atkins has been denied parole.

No compassionate release for terminally ill Charles Manson follower Susan Atkins, who murdered actress Sharon Tate almost 40 years ago, the California parole board has decided. Doctors and prison officials made the request because she is dying of brain cancer.

Atkins has only about three months to live, doctors say. Her husband told the California Board of Parole that she cannot sit up in bed, her left leg has been amputated and she's paralyzed on her right side. "She literally can't snap her fingers," he said. "She can put sentences together three or four times a day, but that's the extent of it," he said.

As you may recall, Atkins was originally sentenced to death. But later, her sentence and the sentences of other death row inmates at that time (to include Manson) were commuted to life in prison in one of those California moments. Had she been put to death, she would be out of her misery and would never have suffered a damned thing (certainly nothing like suffering she put her victims through).

Now, she is in misery in her illness, cannot be made reasonably comfortable in a prison setting, and her attorneys are asking for her release. To their credit the California Parole Board has rejected that request. Maybe she has given her life to God and truly repented for her evil deeds of 40 years ago. Who knows for sure except her and her Maker?

If she has, good for her. But for this moment, there is still a debt she owes. And if it means her dying in prison never being free on this earth again, so be it.


Anonymous said...

You write about weighty issues, my friend. What is the purpose of punishment? Do we (society) seek retribution for the crime rendered … getting even, as it were? Or do we seek to deter crime by showing others the punishment isn’t worth doing? Or do we hope to rehabilitate those imprisoned … so that one day, they may regain society and become a productive member of their community?

It is safe to say that societies do not intend capital punishments as a rehabilitative process, although it is true that California prisons have released murderers and rapists numerous times. Polly Class would still be alive today were it not for the murdering rapist who killed her shortly after his parole from a California prison. The fact is prison populations form their own societies. There is as much crime inside the prison walls as there is on the outside … and authorities allow these conditions to exist because such abhorrent behaviors do not offend our sensitivities. It is out of sight, and out of mind.

Prisoners have access to the same pleasures as you do … with two exceptions – accountability, and mobility. There is no accounting for rape, murder, or assault. Taxpayers provide convicted men and women with a comfortable environment, entertainment, libraries, medical facilities, and educational opportunities. Like most human beings, prisoners adapt to their surroundings, form groups, and engage in moneymaking enterprises. Thanks to thousands of dollars spent on weight rooms, prisoners become bigger and stronger by they time we release them back into society – they become a greater threat. Naturally, the Muslim Brotherhood uses prison as their primary recruitment centers; no one seems much concerned about that, either.

Recidivism rates reflect that we are not accomplishing rehabilitation. We are likewise not punishing anyone in the facilities or the environment I’ve described. Crime rates and prison population numbers suggest that there is no deterrence to crime. So we have to ask ourselves whether incarceration fulfills any of society’s intended goals. What do you think?

Obob said...

I have little if any sympathy for her.

Greg said...

Why should a prisoner's health have an effect on their prison sentence? Especially when it's a "life" sentence. Doesn't that imply that the person will eventually get sick and die in prison?

I'm not gung ho for the death penalty, though I have no moral objection to it. The only situation where I developed a strong opinion in one direction is for jihadis. Jihadis want to die. That is their goal. Therefore, we should deny them what they want and imprison them for life in solitary confinement.

Also, I want to register my agreement with Mustang that prison almost never accomplishes rehabilitation. Once someone goes to jail, they are going to come out worse than they went in. Dangerous criminals probably need to be incarcerated forever. Like Mustang, I wonder how many children have to be assaulted/killed by convicted child rapists before we catch on....

LASunsett said...


I cannot find much in your comment to contradict. I will, however, say that we are talking about capital punishment for murderers, which is different than lesser offenses.

As I said, I think there are people that commit heinous premeditated acts, who are certainly worthy of death. These are they that probably have no conscience and almost no chance of rehabilitating.

This debate often presents itself as a double-edged sword. When i worked for the DOC, I saw computer systems in the prison school that many kids in our school systems did not have. That irritated me greatly. On the other side of the coin, how can we expect to have any chance at rehabilitation except we give these people an opportunity for an education?

The weights in the rec room are another example. On one hand, these guys do beef up and get stronger. It does give them a perk that I do not think they should automatically be entitled to. But on the other, it gives them a tension release so they are less likely to take things out on prison staff. Not only that, it gives prison staff something to take away from those that misbehave.

That said, my overall point is two-fold.

1. I think it's more of a punishment to live behind bars with no freedom, very little access to those they do care about, and the simple pleasures we all take for granted. While it's true that many of them factionalize into gangs and get into trouble, those same people must spend a huge amount of time looking over their shoulder for attacks by rival gangs.

2. I know this one is a slippery-slope stretch, but say someday we extend capital punishments to not only include murderers but those that dissent from the approved government thinking also. They may call it treason and use it as a means to eliminate opposition.

Far fetched? Maybe. Maybe we will never see this, maybe we will be dead by that time. But our kids and grandkids could someday. Who would have thought that the French would have overthrown a despot in Louis XVI, and immediately become worse than the tyrants they replaced? This was the very model used by the Bolsheviks after they took out the Czar. I am not so sure that someone won;t try to do this again someday and we are in denial to think it cannot happen here.

So, what you say is right. Having worked with offenders, I cannot find fault with anything you say. But if we are prudent in our judgments, we must look past the here and now. We must look past revenge killing. If we put to death the wrong person, which has happened and has come close to happening. And if we allow a state that is not the least bit competent in anything else we discuss in these forums, how can we expect them to get this right?

I am willing to let a convicted murderer rot behind bars for the rest of his natural life, on the chance that one or two of them may be innocent and may someday get the opportunity to prove their innocence in order get out. If they are dead, it's not an option. And believe it or not, it's cheaper to keep them in jail and feed their sorry asses, than for the state to pay the enormous attorney fees for death row inmates on endless appeals.

LASunsett said...

//I'm not gung ho for the death penalty, though I have no moral objection to it.//

I have no moral objection to blowing away an intruder that threatens myself or my family. If we would look past this moralizing crap the anti-gun crowd seems to enjoy in making their arguments, we would see less capital cases. Long story short, problem solved.

I can be trusted to make a prudent judgment in that case. But I fear the state, cannot.

LASunsett said...

//I have little if any sympathy for her.//

Neither do I. She'll die slower than her victims and she'll suffer longer. No rec privileges for Susan.