As I've been too busy to blog, I've been similarly too busy to keep up to date with The Nation. So I'm attempting to catch up by reading the May 4th issue, which arrived some time in late April as is the magazine's wont.
Shockingly, I really connected with Alexander Cockburn's Beat the Devil column, Dead Souls. The man is usually so far beyond the obnoxious level that even if I agree with what he says I can't stomach admitting it. But this week, or rather last week which actually arrived the previous week, he had a lot of good shit to say and didn't piss me off more than one or two times, and those mostly out of habit.
Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) is unbelievably shitty as an option for someone's sentence, especially in light of how rarely lifers with the possibility of parole get out. Since the link apparently takes you to a subscribers-only page, I'll give out for free some of his numbers:
In 2007, there were approximately 30,000 people serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. The parole board found 172 of those people "suitable for parole." Then the Governator reversed 115 of the parole decisions, sent back 18 for further review, and "modified" (what that means I have no idea) 2. Leaving a whopping 37 people serving life sentences who got a chance at parole.
What is the benefit, then, of a sentence of LWOP, if it makes a difference only in, say, 15 out of 30,000 cases? The psychological harm it does to a person to let hir know that ze will be there forever is noted and, I assume, empirically verified (big assumption, I know).
I was having trouble wrapping my head around these numbers, so I translated the number of people into a number of days. Imagine getting two or three weeks off from work every 100 years. This is the scale we're talking about.
I don't have a solution to the prison-industrial complex to offer. Maybe y'all do; I'd love to hear 'em. But it's important, I feel, to remember that people who commit crimes are still people.