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March 22, 2008

Federal prisoner provides clemency test for a compassionate conservative

This AP story provides the latest news on the heart-wrenching story of the Yeagers first discussed here.  Here are the details:

A federal inmate is asking President Bush for clemency so he can be with his daughter, who's dying of brain cancer in Lincoln.  Jason Yaeger is in a federal prison in Yankton, South Dakota, serving four years on methamphetamine charges. He's scheduled to be released next year.

But that may be too late for 10-year-old Jayci, who is too weak to respond when her father talks to her on the phone. Yaeger says he's not trying to get out of his sentence. He says the request for clemency is a last resort after the warden refused to move him to a Council Bluffs halfway house, as well as Yaeger's request for a furlough.

He's also filed a court injunction, asking for an immediate transfer to the halfway house, where he's scheduled to be transfered in August.

March 22, 2008 at 08:35 PM | Permalink


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The really sad thing is that in the past the Yankton FPC has let another drug-related inmate go home for a furlough for a dying parent. Why is this any different?

Posted by: ShellyT | Mar 23, 2008 9:53:34 AM

I agree and have seen similar issues when an inmate meets the criteria for furlough but are dicriminated upon.
Lady justice no longer has a blindfold and the scales have become rusted.
If compassion is lost, then there is no hope for this country.

Posted by: Rickey Brunet | Mar 23, 2008 7:29:27 PM

Well, I'm sorry I couldn't join the discussion this weekend, but I was taking my friend who was recently releasd from prison to visit his mother. Really. I know it is rude of me to associate with him, S.cotus, but since he can't get a job (background checks, you know) and has no income or car or other family, I resigned myself to being considered rude but compassionate. It is Easter, after all.

With the exception of beth and grits, most people commenting on this topic seem more interested in figuring out whom to blame for the situation than doing anything to rectify it. Let's see. We can blame the father or the warden or society or the cancer or the justice system or...maybe the alignment of the stars? But, for heaven's sake, don't blame me. Don't ask me to take any responsibility for an injustice. Don't even ask me to think of it as an injustice. Like other prisoners' families, the poor little girl is just an example of the collateral (in normal English usage if not legal) consequences of the impersonal, inexorable march of justice which is obviously, well, just. It's too bad, but it's not my problem.

It makes me think of one of my favorite morality tales in which the main character is asked to contribute to a fund to buy food for the poor. He refuses. When told that some of the poor may die from lack of food, he replies, "Well, let them get on with it then and reduce the surplus population." He said he slept well at night, too. I think his name was S.crooge.

And by the way, S.cotus, you are absolutely right that disciplines have assumptions. Economics assumes rationality. Apparently criminal justice assumes not only rationality but omniscience! The criminal should have been able to predict every possible consequence of his actions, the commission of which he contemplated with dispassionate, objective rationality. The problem with assumptions is that for them to be useful, they have to be true. Unless, of course, the purpose of those assumptions is to make sure that the people in those disciplines don't try to think outside the limits of their disciplines' assumptions. (Maybe that's why they're called disciplines.)

But I thought the point of this story was the concept of compassion, about caring about other people. According to some of you, it might be OK to show compassion for the little girl, as long as we make absolutely sure we don't show any for her father. Anon said that we might be able to justify giving the father time to spend with his daughter because it would be REALLY hard for him to go back to prison after he's been out for a little while and watched his daughter die. That way we could make sure that he's REALLY, REALLY punished. Yeah! Somebody else implied it might be OK to have compassion for Dad if he was just a meth user, but not if he sold it.

Beth said, "Many families no longer feel connected to the present system of justice." No, beth, as one of those family members, I can say that in actuality we don't want to feel connected to it. We want to be as unconnected to it as possible. Simply put, we hate it. We hate seeing it destroy our families and mess up our kids. (I wonder if the little girl in question has any siblings, and how much resentment toward the "system" they are going to harbor.) We hate seeing it make our loved one who have made mistakes even less able to function in society than they were to begin with. We hate being considered the surplus population that should just shut up and disappear. (I, for one, have no intention of shutting up.) We hate the fact that most of you believe none of us have any right to compassion--or anything else!

How ironic that you're discussing this on a weekend when lots of people all over the world are celebrating the life of someone who, if we can believe the stories about him, had compassion for absolutely everyone. Regardless of your religious views or lack thereof, you must admit that his philosophy was an interesting one. He associated with lots of "bad" people (criminals, even!), so he was very rude, and he was willing to give up everyt6hing for his beliefs. And I keep hearing that we live in a "Christian" nation when the people making that claim are some of the meanest, most vindictive, least compassionate, and, frankly, cowardly people on earth.

I have long thought that justice was an empty, meaningless term. Apparently compassion is as well. I just find it all unutterably sad.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 24, 2008 9:40:06 AM

Layman, This is quite interesting. I didn’t post anything yet you reply to me. I am going to have to try and figure out what you are talking about.

In legal discourse, there is nothing wrong with “Blaming” people. In fact, for those that litigate, they usually must find a defendant. In policy matters, one might, perhaps seek to write a statute or a regulation to “remedy” a problem, but those statutes or regulation are, themselves, directed at people. When the statute is challenge (on its face or as applied) someone is blamed. This is how things work. By the same token, any “compassion” that you seek will be interpreted by the likes of Federalist as hurting victims or some other catch-phrase from the victims’ rights industry.

I am not exactly sure what the assumptions of “criminal justice” as a discipline are. So, I can’t help you there.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 24, 2008 11:00:15 AM

S.cotus, can't you just for once try not to decipher someone comment. disillusioned layman comment was not addressing a legal point. He was simply telling the truth about people like you.

Posted by: | Mar 24, 2008 12:46:38 PM

S.cotus, you know perfectly well that I was referring to Prof. Berman's previous post on this clemency topic ("first discussed here") and your multiple comments thereon. I am attempting to get people like you to emerge from your legal mental confines, stop hiding behind verbal obfuscation, and, just briefly, dare to think like human beings. It might be enlightening and liberating for you.

The fact that it is "how things work" or that federalist and victim's rights advocates will get miffed at me doesn't mean I'm going to stop fighting. I rather thought trying to change "how things are" was the point.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 24, 2008 1:10:49 PM

Oh, and S.cotus, to trigger your memory about the "rude" part, go back to the post on "why are so many Americans in prison?" That was awhile ago--maybe last summer?

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 24, 2008 1:55:16 PM

What are you “fighting” for? As I see it, since you refuse to go to law school, you can’t be fighting for much of anything.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 24, 2008 2:21:23 PM

So I should go to law school and learn how things work and that, lo, it is good and right and that it can make me lots of money and then I won't want to change it any more. Back in the '60's we used the term co-opt. Thanks but no thanks.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 24, 2008 2:52:53 PM

It is hard to take your complaints and assertions that you will “fight” for something when you really have not demonstrated any real commitment to your cause. Going to law school would be a good start. I don’t know if you will decide that “fighting” for whatever your ill-defined cause might will no longer be worth it, that would be your choice.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 24, 2008 3:17:18 PM

Compare this debate between the compassionates and the punitives over the culpability of a 9-year-old who falsely claimed his friend was kidnapped when he actually died in an accident.

There is a term for "bleeding heart liberals" but no equally descriptive term for the opposite, the Punitives. Why not and what would it be? In the linked debate there is a great deal of arrogant indignation but that doesn't really capture the essence like "bleeding heart liberal" does. It is difficult to define in an effective sound bite. Clearly, Punitives consider this arrogance a virtue and succeeded in labeling any compassion a vice.

Posted by: George | Mar 24, 2008 3:46:54 PM

Most useless comment thread ever. Just when I thought layman and S.cotus had made it as useless as possible with a debate over platitudes and semantics, George seals the deal with another useless huperlink.

Does anyone have any thoughts re: the clemency petition and the injunction, whether either one could or should succeed?

Posted by: | Mar 24, 2008 6:01:45 PM

You missed the meaning of the lesson in depravity, "|." Let's call them shock and awe conservatives.

True, the conversation at the link is rather useless, but those are the kinds of conversations that get laws, useless laws, passed.

Posted by: George | Mar 24, 2008 9:46:30 PM

Okay, let me try to make this discussion more useful.

From the perspective of a non-lawyer, of course the clemency petition should succeed. There are some people out here who are horrified by the callousness of our legal system.

We get particularly angry when some of you try to justify thet callousness with legal technicalities.
You hide behind those technicalities to avoid taking responsibility for your actions, and then you become self-righteous in stating that "it's the law" or "that's the way the system works." You throw it back and say we, the citizens, should change the law, and then you contradict yourselves by saying that no one who is a lawyer should have anything to say about it. You can't have it both ways.

We get even more angry when the people running our government and our legal system describe themselves as "compassionate" and proceed to show no compassion for anyone. Like "justice," compassion appears to be a term to use for political purposes as long as you don't actually do anything compassionate. Everyone is afraid to take a risk based on moral concepts of right and wrong (believe it or not, those terms actually hve meaning to many of us that have nothing to do with legal terminology) because they might be blamed if their compassion has unexpected consequences.

As I have tried to point out in previous posts, some of us out here in non-legal land do have the capacity to think and to recognize injustice and absurdity. When there is a total disconnect between the legal system and the citizens it has been developed to serve, our society has a problem. (Yes, folks, serve, not control. You're raison d'etre is keeping us safe, or so you say.) Being patted on the head and told, "Don't you worry about it, little citizen. You couldn't possibly understand. Just let us take care of it." doesn't help.

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 25, 2008 9:48:34 AM

Typographical error. The next to last line in the third paragraph in the last post should say "no one who is NOT a lawyer."

Posted by: disillusioned layman | Mar 25, 2008 10:23:05 AM

Mar 24, 2008 6:01:45 PM, To date, as far as I know, no court has ever held that it can directly review the BOP’s decisions on furloughs. By the same token, none has ever rejected the proposition that it could order a warden to “consider” a petition.

I though that “technicalities” only helped guilty people go free. (At least that is what the non-lawyers believe, and I have been told is what we should continue to tell them.)

“some of us out here in non-legal land do have the capacity to think and to recognize injustice and absurdity.”

This is simply not true.

In fact, there is a deep connection between our legal system and the citizenry. Citizens are often arrested and provided with counsel before being sent to jail or set free. What more do you want?

Unfortunately, because the non-lawyers get frustrated at anything complex and don’t really like to read as much as lawyers, there is no meaningful way to communicate with them except in vague platitudes.

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 25, 2008 11:38:21 AM

S.cotus writes in another post that "Society made a mistake by allowing people that later became felons to be born". Does that ring a bell S.cotus? So if I follow your reasoning then Jason Yaeger shouldn't have been born and all of this makes this 10 year old girls fears and sorrows mute. Don't bother asking me to state any legal jabbery and I won't ask you to act like a human. I think the good people of South Dakota will should show compassion.

Posted by: USMC | Mar 26, 2008 6:28:06 PM

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