Life Sentences Without Parole Serve a Necessary Function in Good Governance

Life Sentences Without Parole Serve a Necessary Function in Good Governance October 24, 2014

 

According to an article I read in The Guardian, Pope Francis has issued a call to do away with life sentences, calling them a ‘hidden death penalty.’

I know that the Holy Father comes from Argentina, and that he lived through a brutal regime in which the government engaged in random arrests, incarceration, torture and even murder of its own citizens. I have no doubt that his feelings about life sentences are informed by his own life experiences. I would guess that, if I was looking at the issue from the perspective of brutal, totalitarian regimes, I would agree with him about this.

Under those circumstances, life sentences can indeed become a “hidden death penalty.”

However, life sentences are also a necessary alternative to the death penalty. Without life sentences, there would be no option in dealing with certain types of criminals except to put them to death.

The reason I say this is that there are people who are too dangerous to ever be allowed to walk free. It is as simple and as hard as that. Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson (and his girls), the BTK killer and all their kin must be kept from the public in order to maintain the public safety.

There are three alternatives here.

1. Let them out after a few years and then go to the funerals of their new victims.

2. Keep them locked up.

3. Kill them.

I have chosen to keep them locked up. The reason I made that choice was that I did not want to use the death penalty to kill them. However, if the choice was the death penalty or letting them out to kill again, I would be forced to chose the death penalty.

A just and stable government is always the greater good. That is the controlling principle by which I operated while I was an elected official. I think it should be the controlling principle for all governance.

It is impossible to have a government that is either just or stable if killers are allowed to roam free to kill at will. It is also a fact that certain crimes against persons and society are so grievous that the perpetrators must, in justice, spend the rest of their lives outside of society.

This flies in the face of Christian mercy, of the idea that all people are redeemable. I know that. But it is a necessary component to good governance and establishing a legal order which places a sufficient weight on the value of human life,

You may not kill people.

That has to be the bottom line for all good governance concerning human life. The wanton murder of an innocent human being must be set aside as a crime so grave, so final, that its finality is reflected in the punishment. I am not advocating an eye for an eye. I do not favor the death penalty, and I’ve got the votes and the scars to prove it.

But I believe absolutely that a just and stable government is always the greater good. The horrors the people of Argentina experienced under an unjust government are just one example of what can happen when those who hold the power of state use that power in unjust ways.

In order to maintain what the Founding Fathers called “domestic tranquility” we must have prisons. We must have just laws and redress from government abuse of its power. Every citizen must have the right to seek redress through the courts. And we must have laws that place sufficient gravity on the value of human life to protect the citizenry.

I believe that life sentences, including the option of a life sentence without parole, (which I authored legislation to create in Oklahoma) are a necessary component in maintaining the public order, and an equally necessary alternative to the death penalty.


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13 responses to “Life Sentences Without Parole Serve a Necessary Function in Good Governance”

  1. I’d prefer if prisons were more humane (solitary confinement is torture*), but murder will not pause while we sort that out, so life in prison it is.

    * There are times when a prisoner cannot be safely allowed in the general population, I agree. Putting a human being in complete isolation from everyone else and everything AS A PUNISHMENT is wrong. At the very least give them a book to read or something.

    While I’m at it, prison rape: It reflects poorly on us as a nation that we collectively consider prison rape an acceptable part of incarceration. Christ have mercy, we even JOKE about it. What has gone wrong in our hearts that we do not throw all the resources we throw at any other kind of sexual violence at violence against prisoners?

  2. ” Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson (and his girls), the BTK killer and all their kin must be kept from the public in order to maintain the public safety.”

    I get the distinct impression from certain strains of thought in Ignatian Spirituality that there is a disregard for the victims as such as these. Just taking the first on your list, under the extreme version of the charitable interpretation, he’s just a man with a strange taste in meat- who are we to judge?

    Mercy without repentance. Binding the wound without attempting to cure it first.

    I have to wonder if even Pope Francis is tempted to that side of things.

  3. Remember my motto: whenever the mainstream media announces that the Pope said something, wait at least 48 hours for the truth to get its pants on. Because there is no way on God’s green Earth that the Pope has never heard of a serial killer. Or 100% recidivism in child molesters.

    Seriously, either this is a lie (half-truths count), or the Pope is brain damaged. Because not even the most anti-death penalty Left winger I know shed a tear over Ted Bundy, or campaigning for the release of Charles Manson.

  4. I agree with you completely about prison rape and other attacks on inmates in our prisons. While they are in our custody, they are our responsibility. It has confounded me that the courts orders that prisoners be given access to a law library, but there are not court orders mandating that they not be subjected to constant fear of rape by other inmates.

  5. 100% with you, yet also wonder if life imprisonment necessarily “flies in the face of Christian mercy, of the idea that all people are redeemable.” I hope that our form of government and our penal system can both offer opportunities for redemption for these people while also keeping them physically separate from society.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this on and off all day. There are other issues which need to be addressed in addition to the one you raise (which I agree with, btw.) Our sentencing is very haphazard. But when we turn to uniform sentencing, that takes the leeway out of judges’ hands to provide workable sentences for individual circumstances. It’s proven to create problems of real injustice. The same goes for things like 3 strike laws. Great in a sound bite, in actual practice, it turns out to create virtual life sentences for non-violent offenses or as a result of piling on. Also, we have far too many felonies for relatively trivial things, and again, we have sentences that are far too severe for things that do not harm people and sentences that are not severe enough for things that do terrible harm to people. I can tell you that fixing these things — which looks like a no-brainer from outside a legislative body — is impossible from inside one. All this tends to magnify the fact that the Holy Father is onto something here in that our sentencing structure is unjust.

  7. I’m flabberghasted. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I predicted this as a political development, not from the Pope, though I shouldn’t be surprised there either. One of Liberal’s arguments against the death penalty has always been that life in prison is an even harsher sentence. So end the death penalty and institute life in prison without parole. I knew that once the death penalty was abolished the very next bleeding heart Liberal activism would be to end life in prison. I’m not for or against the death penalty as to whether it is harsher or not. I’m for the death penalty because it is the appropriate penalty to reach a sense of justice for the crime they committed. And that’s not to say all murders reach a death penalty level. Other ,murders might reach a life in prisonment level, some with and some without the possibility of parole. And don’t ask me here to distinguish which crime fits the penalties. That’s a long complicated discussion and requires societal evaluation. But no way will I support the Holy Father’s call on this.

  8. I disagree with the Pope on this matter. Even life without parole means that that person is still alive, with food, shelter and medical care. Their victim in most cases is dead.

  9. “This flies in the face of Christian mercy, of the idea that all people are redeemable. I know that. But it is a necessary component to good governance and establishing a legal order which places a sufficient weight on the value of human life… ”

    I respectfully disagree. Justice and mercy can never be contrary. In fact, nine tenths of mercy is how justice is dispensed. I submit that it is the role of the state, as the people’s sole authorized agent of coercion and bearer or violence and incarceration, to carry out justice. It is the role of the Christian people, and not the state, to bear mercy, and thus witness to the love of God. The state, in turn, is obliged by justice, giving each its due, eagerly to make room for the exercise of mercy by private individuals and voluntary associations, including the Church. The state has an interest here because this exercise of mercy can hasten repentance, which of course is the highest aspiration of justice. (Hastening repentance, along with legitimate and regulated retribution justice, are the two reasons that St. Thomas Aquinas commends the death penalty.)

  10. How many people do you get to murder, and still be set free to try again?

    With respect, your approach trivializes the deaths of the first however many people murdered, as well as the losses of their families, and right of the rest of us to be safe in our homes and in public places.