Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Crimes of Punishment

If you have a chance, have a listen to the BBC documentary, “Call That Justice”. The documentary looks into crime and punishment, and – in the second part – into the US prison system. In particular, it examines the glee with which many states lock away their children.

The section of the documentary that I listened to focused on Colorado which (forgive me if the details aren’t entirely correct) has a law through which prosecutors can call for child-offenders to be tried as adults. Colorado also has mandatory life sentences for homicide (or at least for homicide in some instances). This means that if a prosecutor demands that a child murderer be charged as an adult and, if they are convicted, they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars – no chance for redemption.

This legislation has already led to cases where teenagers have been given mandatory life sentences for murdering their abusive parents, but the Colorado situation is even more crazed. In Colorado they also have legislation in place regarding felony murder. This means that, if you are involved in a crime where someone is killed – even if you did not kill them yourself – you can be sentenced as if you were the murderer.

Combine all these rules together and you get the Case of Erik Jensen. Erik walked in on his friend Nathan Ybanez murdering his (Nathan’s) mother. Nathan had suffered abuse at the hands of both his parents over many years and, even though Erik and others had tried to get Nathan help, it was never made available. Eventually, his situation intolerable, Nathan cracked.

Erik was not involved in the murder but he helped Nathan tidy the house afterwards. For the crime of making the spur of the moment decision to help his friend, Erik is now serving life without parole.

Does this sound like justice?

If you're as appalled by this as I am have a look at the Pendulum Foundation’s website for ways to help.

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