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March 6, 2005

Sunday morning's must-read section

The Roper decision and Martha's release from prison have generated far more media buzz about sentencing issues than one human could possibly process (although Howard at How Appealing shows he is super-human by coming close).  But today's New York Times Week in Review section is my suggested must-read for today.  It includes this little article questioning whether the purposes of punishment were served or undermined by Martha's time in Alderson, and this fantastic graphic charting the history of capital punishment in the United States.

But the most intriguing read is Chuck Colson's op-ed about prison life entitled "Martha Stewart Living Free."  Here are a few choice excerpts:

I know firsthand why America's approach to criminal justice is such a flawed policy. The idea that prisons are "penitentiaries" (for penitence) or "reformatories" (to reform criminals) or "correctional institutions" (to correct bad behavior) is a myth.  When pressed, most correction officials now acknowledge that prisons do not rehabilitate.  Anybody who has spent time inside, whether Martha Stewart, Chuck Colson or a six-time drug offender, knows this - which is why I have become an advocate for alternatives.

As with Ms. Stewart, half of all inmates are in for nonviolent offenses.  It would be just as much punishment to put them in work programs and make them pay back their victims or do community service. It would cost half as much, do some good, and pose no danger to society....

I was pleased to learn of one of Ms. Stewart's first statements upon her release from prison: "I will never forget the friends that I met here."  This is the same promise I made 30 years ago.  I hope that Ms. Stewart, who is a remarkable influence on women of all walks of life, uses her talents to reach out to the 100,000-plus women who are still behind bars.  If Martha Stewart does this, I am certain she will find the same paradoxical happy ending to her prison journey that I have.

I have previously noted the work of Chuck Colson's organization, the Prison Fellowship, a few months ago in this post pondering whether we are starting to see a "new right" on criminal sentencing issues.

March 6, 2005 at 01:00 PM | Permalink


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