Toward the end of the Shawshank Redemption, Red (played by Morgan Freeman), who has spent most of his life in prison for murder, is asked by the parole board if he has been rehabilitated. Red replies, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left.”
After all those years in prison, Red had become a different person.
Which is why I’m intrigued by Norway’s practice of not sentencing anyone to more than 21 years. Nobody. If somebody is still deemed a risk to society, they can keep adding 5 years of what they call “preventive detention.” A person like Charles Manson is never getting released. But they recognize that time changes people. What you did at age 20, you wouldn’t necessarily do at age 40. They are more interested in rehabilitation than in punishment, which tends to be our emphasis.
In America, 49,000 persons are serving life-without-parole, up 22% since 2008. For 3200 of them, their crime was non-violent–80% for drug-related crimes, but others for such crimes as shoplifting or cashing a stolen check. It’s the residue of “get tough on crime” mandatory sentencing laws which tie the hands of judges, and which are terribly unjust.
In Europe, only two countries allow sentences of life-without-parole, and then only for murder.
Do we really need to incarcerate 2.3 million Americans?
Timothy Jackson got caught stealing a $159 jacket, and Louisiana’s four-strikes law forced the judge to give him life-without-parole. He has now been in prison for 16 years. For $159 retail. “I am much older and I have learned a lot about myself,” Jackson wrote from prison, sounding a lot like Red.Leave a comment