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April 10, 2011

"Right-winger + hard time = compassion?"

Md_horiz The title of this post is the headline of this notable piece by Justin Elliot now up at Salon.com, which also has the cool graphic reprinted here and carries this subheading: "Some of the most eloquent advocates for prison reform are conservatives who find themselves behind bars." Here is how the piece gets started:

Last week, disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham wrote a letter to several media outlets from the federal penitentiary where he has resided since 2006.  In it, Cunningham, a conservative Republican who pleaded guilty in a public corruption case in 2005, waxed eloquent about an unlikely topic: prison reform.

"The United States has more more men & women in prison than any other nation including Russia and China," he wrote.  "The largest growing number of prisoners, women -- 1-34 Americans are either on probation or in prison.  The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later."  Cunningham also promised he would dedicate his life to prison reform.

We've seen transformations like this before.  Cunningham is the latest in a string of conservative political figures to see the light on prison reform following a stint behind bars.

Right-wing media mogul Conrad Black, for example, did two years' hard time after being convicted in a 2007 fraud case.  Following his release in 2010, Black has written passionately about prison reform.

While incarcerated, he learned "of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society.  I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.)."

And, of course, Nixon aide Charles Colson devoted his life to criminal justice reform -- and spreading Christianity among prisoners -- after serving seven months in 1974 for obstruction of justice in a Watergate-related case.  Colson's Justice Fellowship organization lobbies for better conditions in prisons and reform of sentencing and the criminal code.  The head of Justice Fellowship is Pat Nolan, a former conservative law-and-order Republican in the California assembly who devoted himself to prison reform after serving 29 months for corruption in the 1990s.

The piece concludes with a Q&A intereview in which I speculate on some of the reasons why some conservatives start talking about sentencing and prison reform after they have seen the operation of the criminal justice system first hand.

April 10, 2011 at 01:20 PM | Permalink


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Good piece. I would add to the list of major issues in prison reform the heightened problem of prisoner reentry following this lengthy period with the highest incarceration rate in U.S. history. The "rehabilitation" touted by various governmental correctional agencies has in most cases become a costly lie, and communities are left holding the bag: large numbers of former prisoners returning to communities in worse shape than when they went in, with zero prospects in today's economy. Local communities are left to deal with the consequences and are often unable to do so. Meanwhile, recidivism grows.

Posted by: anon | Apr 10, 2011 1:47:00 PM

The left has no credibility on these and related issues. It isup to right wing Republicans like federalist and Bill to carry the water here. I don't see it happening it my lifetime, but I've been wrong before.

Posted by: anon11 | Apr 10, 2011 2:51:14 PM

A sleazy crook like Duke Cunningham, after tearfully pleading guilty and apologizing to everyone in sight, now finds that the problem is The System, not Duke Cunningham.

My, my.

Here's a fact-check: In November 2005, Cunningham pled guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud in federal court in San Diego. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter's college graduation party. Cunningham's attorney, Mark Holscher, later said that the government's evidence was so overwhelming that he had no choice but to recommend a guilty plea.

As part of the plea agreement, Cunningham agreed to help the government in its prosecution of others involved in the defense contractor bribery scandal. However, news reports surfaced stating that Cunningham was not cooperating with investigators despite the agreement. A week later, Cunningham, through his lawyer, announced that he was ready to cooperate.

In marked contrast to his defiant stand earlier in the year, Cunningham appeared very contrite, sullen and overcome by emotion when he read his prepared statement announcing that he was stepping down from Congress after his conviction:

“ When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public — even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry. The truth is — I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. ... In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame."

I won't even go into the even sleazier Conrad Black, much less Nixon-hugger Charlie Colson, who must now be 200 years old.

Are these three characters the best Salon can do? Where's Blago now that we need him?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2011 4:13:37 PM

Most right wing defendants are wealthy, and the target of lawyer gotchas for failing to follow a paper work procedure, incomprehensible to even judges. They are the victims of the lawyer business plan to plunder and defund all productive entities. They have not understood the plan behind their false prosecutions. They are often the targets of political witch hunts. I strongly urge them to reciprocate once in office. For example, it is humanly impossible to not use a federal stamp machine or telephone to make a personal call. That is why I strongly urge all innocent defendants to demand all out e-discovery of the prosecution and of the judge. Refer all questionable material to the FBI for follow up investigation. White collar defense defense lawyers, from Harvard Law School find that offensive. They are just protecting their jobs. These would disappear if the prosecution were deterred.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 10, 2011 6:50:43 PM

From the article: "I think it's a combination of the discovery that prison is harsher and starker than they have anticipated, and their personal experiences going through the system -- getting sentenced to prison and experiencing the humanity that's there. It makes them appreciate that the good vs. evil dichotomy doesn't capture the nuanced reality of prison."

To me, the real question is why people like Cunningham have to go to prison to learn this lesson, while others don't. My guess is that it's expedient for politicians not to inform themselves, not to think about it, and not to learn about it, because it makes it harder to sustain a "tough on crime" rhetoric otherwise. As long as they blind themselves to the realities, it's easier to keep up the illusion that criminal justice in America is solely about good and evil.

And I dispute that this is somehow a phenomenon of just "conservatives"; I think it has more to do with the fact that they're politicians and powerful people.

Posted by: C.E. | Apr 10, 2011 10:39:17 PM

C.E. --

The notion that the present criminal justice system -- or any alternative to it -- is or will be infallible is obviously incorrect, which is why no one advances it.

Equally incorrect, indeed absurd, is the notion that our prisons are chock full of factually innocent people or people who haven't done something significant to earn their way in.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 10, 2011 11:49:26 PM

Thank you for sharing,it is very helpful and I really like it!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:08:50 AM

Madoff: US Government a Ponzi Scheme.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2011 6:51:19 AM

To be fair, there ARE some conservatives advocating criminal justice reform (see rightoncrime.com), who’ve never done any time themselves, e.g., Bob Barr, Ed Meese, William Bennett, Asa Hutchinson.

But what’s notable is that these conservatives never did anything about it, when they had the power to do so. Only after they left power did they acknowledge that the system was broken.

So the criminal justice system is a bit like the national debt: it no longer functions well, no one in power, of either party, ever offers an intelligent solution for fixing it. It’s not because they can’t think of any, but because no real solution has broad public support. Only those who will never face voters again can afford to be honest about the problem.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 11, 2011 8:37:08 AM

Marc Shepherd --

With all respect, the problem is that your analysis assumes its conclusion, to wit, that prison "reform" -- defined as fewer (perhaps massively fewer) people in prison -- is a good thing.

Viewed in isolation, of course it's a good thing, but it can't be viewed in isolation. The increase in "tough on crime" approaches, and thus the increase in the prison population, was IN RESPONSE TO SOMETHING -- the surging crime rate of the late sixties and seventies.

Once stiffer sentencing began to take hold in the eighties, the crime rate started to decline. It is no exaggeration to say that the appearance of (as Doug calls it) "incarceration nation" has EXACTLY coincided with very significant downtrend in crime that the country has seen now for about the last 25 years (just as the prison population was swelling). Indeed, a better-than-plausible argument can be made that imprisonment is the most effective social program of the last generation.

Nor is this a surprise. It is only a relative handful of the population that commits the huge majority of crime. When the people who commit it are in prison rather than on the street, less gets committed.

It's true that imprisonment has costs, as does every other government-sponsored remedy for social problems. But to focus ONLY on the costs, while denying the substantial benefits (many fewer crimes and crime victims) is obtuse. That, however, is largely what goes on on this forum. There is all manner of talk of the need for less imprisonment, but virtual silence about the need for less crime.

I'm not running for office, and neither is Kent Scheidegger or, for example, federalist. The idea that only political cowardice accounts for being relatively hard line is incorrect, not to mention unworthy.

The gains we have made against crime over the last generation are hard won and easily lost. The costs of imprisonment are easy to quantify, and thus publicize, because they occupt a line on the budget. The benefits of imprisonment are much harder to quantify, because there is no budget line for that. But a family made more secure because its home was NOT burgled, or a woman more at ease in life because she was NOT raped, or a man whose savings are still there because he was NOT swindled -- all those people count too, and they are not less real nor less deserving of the law's protection because they cannot be identified by name or put down of a budget line.

P.S. I also disagree with your view that "the criminal justice system is a bit like the national debt: it no longer functions well, no one in power, of either party, ever offers an intelligent solution for fixing it." Only a few days ago, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) offered a plan that takes on two of the three entitlement programs that are driving the national debt.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2011 9:17:35 AM

Isn't this article a cliche and clutter? And its mirror image, a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, would also be a cliche, except for one thing.

For every conservative that goes to jail, and changes interest? There are 10 liberals who get mugged.

That is correct. Our criminal justice system addresses only 1 in 10 serious, traditional crimes. It is nearly worthless. Imagine any other enterprise that addressed only 10% of its area of responsibility. An appliance repair shop that fixed 1 in 10 broken washing machines. A roofer who closed only 1 in 10 holes in the roof. A doctor that bothered treating only 1 in 10 pneumonia patients who came to him. Not law suits, arrests, as a threat to the public safety.

Why is the lawyer not only not removed, but immunized? It is mostly because we have allowed the lawyer to immunize himself. We cannot even criticize the Supreme Court as an elected official without getting bashed by other law makers (who just happen to be lawyers). The bashers are from one's own party and ideologically similar. Then, one is removed from positions of power, and prosecuted on false, trumped up, malum prohibitum charges. The system is run tighter than any the KGB ran or Castro's.

Now Prof. Berman has twice my IQ and 10 times the knowledge of the facts of crime. Why is my high school stuff excluded from his perspective? He is also a victim. A victim of a criminal cult indoctrination that only values the rent. He knows, he would be destroyed if he ever questioned any fundamental matter, such as utter failure.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2011 10:24:06 AM

I would appreciate Prof. Berman's just writing in a comment the following.


Not in the context of victim impact statements, just by itself. That would show some caring for the sole purpose of the criminal law, or of government, safety.

Victim impact will soon require representation at taxpayer expense. It is unlawful testimony without cross examination, or verification. It violates the Rules of Evidence by its inflammatory nature. It is also trivial. Every juror knows, it is bad to lose a loved one or to be a crime victim. Nothing new is added except for the enhancement of lawyer employment. Victim impact is lawyer rent seeking in disguise and not appreciated.

He cannot write the word, victim, by itself. This is silly, but it is a general principle I discovered. No lawyer can do it. If he does not get sick doing it, he will soon find out. Other lawyers will be merciless with him. He will get a warning from the cult. I have no desire to jeopardize his safety or future. So, I will understand if he cannot do it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 11, 2011 10:38:19 AM

Bill Otis--

I was making a rather different point. I am certainly aware that there are conservatives like you and Kent, who aren’t running for office, but who believe that the current approach to incarceration has worked.

I am merely pointing out the intellectual inconsistency of conservatives who hold the opposite viewpoint, but never said so until they were out of office.

Whether the Paul Ryan plan qualifies as an intelligent solution to the debt is debatable. I suspect he knows it has no chance of being enacted, which means it is probably intended to be provocative, rather than to solve anything: even in Republicans’ wildest dreams, they are unlikely to get the votes that would be needed to curtail Medicare and Social Security to that degree. Most swing-district and swing-state Republicans know that it would be electoral death to enact that plan. It is as much of a non-starter as a huge tax increase.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 11, 2011 11:35:44 AM

Bill Otis,

With all respect, your analysis is quite flawed. Specifically, your assertion that incarceration is a significant cause of lower crime rates is inaccurate. Governmental data and reports clearly show that the decrease in crime - especially violent crime - is only very marginally linked to the rise in incarceration.

That is especially true when speaking of violent crime, which you particularly describe. Analysis of crime rates shows that only about 25% of the decline in violent crime can be attributed to increased incarceration. As the Sentencing Project notes: "While one-quarter of the crime drop is not insubstantial, we then know that most of the decline — three-quarters — was due to factors other than incarceration". In fact most people filling our prisons are imprisoned for drug-related crimes deemed non-violent and victimless by the courts and the prison system.

It is precisely because the data shows that incarceration is *not* working to prevent violent crime, that so many are also looking at the dysfunction of mass incarceration and asking for reform. I refer you to the Sentencing Project's report "Incarceration and Crime: A Complex Relationship" for information about crime stats and analysis about the decrease in crime and the rise in incarceration.

Incidentally, I find it very curious that some of those who call themselves "conservatives" are in favor of increased incarceration, which is a very recent, new phenomena in U.S. society, and probably one of the more massive and intense (not to mention costly) governmental interventions into private life in U.S. history.

Posted by: anon | Apr 11, 2011 11:40:11 AM

Marc --

Let me refer you to this morning's column in the Washington Post by Robert Samuelson, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/04/11/big_government_on_the_brink_109497.html.

I quote below the last two paragraphs, but the whole thing is worth reading:

"Stalemate reigns. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's proposed 2012 budget forthrightly addresses health spending but doesn't make any cuts in Social Security. Ryan's plan would ultimately gut defense and some valuable domestic programs; it wouldn't reach balance until about 2040. Compared to Democrats, however, Ryan is a model of intellectual rigor and political courage. Obama would run huge deficits from now to eternity; the Congressional Budget Office has projected $12.2 trillion of added debt from 2010 to 2021 under his policies. Obama urges an "adult" conversation and acts like a child, denying the unappealing choices.

"Government is suicidal because it breeds expectations that cannot be met. All the partisan skirmishing over a federal shutdown has missed the larger issue: whether we can restore government as an instrument of progress or whether it remains -- as it is now -- a threat."

We are 14 trillion dollars in debt. The debt this year alone will be 1.6 trillion. We are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. This cannot continue. The problem is not with Ryan's plan or any plan that reforms entitlements, which is the only way out. The problem is with a culture besotted with the belief that the government will and should take care of you. Ryan is a least a little willing to take that on; Obama isn't, not one little bit. His budget for next year did not include any entitlement reform whatever -- an abdication of leadership of simply astounding proportions.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2011 12:52:31 PM

It's just the old joke: What do you call a conservative who's been arrested? A liberal.

Posted by: lawtype | Apr 11, 2011 1:19:08 PM

anon --

Your note is, while civil in tone (for which I thank you), both incorrect and self-contradictory.

You maintain in your first paragraph that, "Governmental data and reports clearly show that the decrease in crime - especially violent crime - is only very marginally linked to the rise in incarceration." You do not, however, cite any particular government report or explain how it supports your view. But for however that may be, you contradict yourself in the second paragraph by conceding that, "Analysis of crime rates shows that only about 25% of the decline in violent crime can be attributed to increased incarceration."

Well, 25% is hardly "very marginal." To the contrary, it translates to a very significant contribution to the reduction in the crime rate and the total number of crime victims. Indeed it means thousands fewer victims. Are you ready to throw that away to go back to the old, sixties chant of "rehabilitation" -- a chant we know failed to stem the massive increase of crime that occurred in its heyday?

Then in your third paragraph, you say, "It is precisely because the data shows that incarceration is *not* working to prevent violent crime, that so many are also looking at the dysfunction of mass incarceration and asking for reform."

Having acknowledged in your second paragraph that a quarter of the huge reduction in crime since the late seventies is due to incarceration (your 25% figure is something I am assuming here arguendo, without conceding that it's that low), it's nonsensical to say that incarceration "is not working." The only question is whether it working moderately well or extremely well.

The great majority of those seeking prisoner releases and lower sentences are not conservatives, and among those who are, almost the entire driving force is the imperative to cut back government spending and borrowing. It is liberals, who never believed in serious punishment to begin with, and the defense bar in particular, that is leading the charge to take criminals out of prison and put them back on the street.

When they get back, do you think the rate of recidivism is zero? How much more crime, specifically, are you willing to allow to accomplish your leniency goals? And what do you say to the additional people who'll be beaten, mugged, robbed, swindled, ripped off, raped and murdered when these people are back on the street?

And no, don't pretend that only those who commit property crimes, or who "merely" want to sell meth or coke to your 16 year-old, will be getting out (which, mind you, would be bad enough). The Left is fond of pointing out -- correctly -- that the system makes mistakes. The idea that it will be mistake-free in prisoner releases is preposterous. Such releases are going to increase danger to the public.

Who among those wanting a massive curtailment of imprisonment is willing to say to the victim of the inmate who was released last week and sold coke to your kid this week, "Oh, sorry about that, but prison costs money, and if your kid winds up an addict, well, that's the way the cookie crumbles."

I hope they're a lot of you, because that conversation will be needed many, many times.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2011 1:32:17 PM

Bill Otis
I agree with these statements 100%.
We are borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. This cannot continue. The problem is not with Ryan's plan or any plan that reforms entitlements, which is the only way out. The problem is with a culture besotted with the belief that the government will and should take care of you. Ryan is a least a little willing to take that on; Obama isn't, not one little bit.

On incarceration, most are doing time for drugs.
They do need time to dry out, think about what they've done and maybe "get it", lots donot.

The following is extremekly excessive:
Life 3 strikes.
Anything over 7 yrs for a 1st time offender.
(Unless violence took place, they actually did
something with a gun)
serving 87.2 % of the sentence, 60% is adequente.
Uncharged and acquited conduct.
1000 ft enhancement is worthless...If a gun was present or the protected area was with in straight
sight unobstructed and within 300 ft..Then yes..
As its defined...It goes from property line to property line...If I lived in Northern N.D and owned the entire state and a school was 10 ft over the N.D border in S.D. I would be within 1000ft.....

In general there are too many areas that defendents get sentences jacked up, because of a potentiasl for this or that....Something must of happened, not the potential.. Best example is owi as a crime of violence...It took Scotus to knock it down or the Feds would continue on....

Posted by: Josh | Apr 11, 2011 2:35:31 PM


My issue with the Ryan proposal is that, as you have noted, it doesn’t reach balance until 2040. As a nation, we have long since proved two things. First, we are not able to make economic projections 29 years into the future. Second, where the deficit is concerned, the assumptions are always too rosy. Compare, for example, the projections that were made when the Reagan and Bush 43 tax cuts were enacted. As I recall, it took no more than a year or two for the underlying premise to be disproved (from a budgetary standpoint).

By the way, I am not suggesting that Obama’s plan (does he even have one?) is better. What I’m saying is that nobody can trust a plan that takes 29 years, as Ryan’s purports to do. There is no rational basis in history, to suggest that we are capable of staying the course for 29 years, even if the underlying economic assumptions are correct, which they probably aren’t.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 11, 2011 2:54:40 PM

Josh: “The problem is with a culture besotted with the belief that the government will and should take care of you. Ryan is a least a little willing to take that on; Obama isn't, not one little bit.”

It’s rather simplistic to couch this as “Ryan vs. Obama.” Remember, on Bush 43’s watch, Medicare saw its largest expansion since the 1960s, with passage of the prescription drug benefit. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s irrational to suggest that this is something only Democrats do.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Republican presidential nominee embraces anything as bold as Ryan has proposed. My prediction is that he or she will not, as it’s a sure loser. You may wish you had been born into some other culture; but this is the culture we have.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 11, 2011 3:31:56 PM

Marc, we are becoming Federalized... The feds are trying to controlore and more....They can't get a budget out the door, much less decide on something as simple as 18:1 should be retro...

We are in for a ride..

Posted by: Josh | Apr 11, 2011 4:11:44 PM

"On incarceration, most are doing time for drugs."

State prison inmates whose offense of commitment is a drug offense are, in fact, less than 29% of the total. See Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2009, Table 10, page 9.

How many of those drug offense commitments are the result of plea bargains where violent crime charges are dropped we do not know.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Apr 11, 2011 4:41:20 PM

Josh: "They [drug offenders] do need time to dry out, think about what they've done and maybe 'get it', lots do not."

You appear to be under the impression that most of the incarcerated drug offenders are users rather than sellers. If so, what is your basis for that?

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Apr 11, 2011 5:07:49 PM

When the topic is mass incarceration, Bill typically invokes cases arising from lurid violence and depravity. SC raves about muggers and victims.

The problem with their default boogeymen is that I've yet to hear even the most ardent opponent of mass incarceration argue violent criminals are being locked up too often or too long.

For me the issue is the relentless persecution and mindlessly harsh punishment of our witches de jour...drug abusers, ordinary business people accused of white-collar crimes, legal-technicality "sex offenders" who pose little or no risk of harm to anyone, ex-cons who slip on any of the numerous banana peels we keep throwing in their paths.

Bill again dismisses as absurd the notion prisons are "chock full of factually innocent people..." Maybe so, but the prisons are indeed full of non-violent citizens strong-armed into confessing to felonies for actions that should have been misdemeanors or grounds for firing, a fine or a lawsuit or simply public censure.

And yes, Bill, too many citizens -- whatever the number -- are in prison for no other reason than the government's power to make the prospect of losing at trial sufficiently devastating to discourage even "factually innocent" people from taking that risk.

Cunningham put it well: "The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later."

The system grows evermore unbalanced and unfair, from the way the laws are written to ensure convictions to the blind eye courts routinely turn to abuses by police and prosecutors. Worse of all, the option of incarceration has advanced from a reluctant last resort to the gleeful first response it appears to be now.

Posted by: John K | Apr 11, 2011 7:33:13 PM

John K --

"Cunningham put it well: 'The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later.'"

You're actually going to enlist Duke Cunningham as a credible source??? I put up the real story with Cunningham in the third comment, at Apr 10, 2011 4:13:37 PM. In that comment, I quoted Cunningham as telling his about to be ex-colleagues (not the court and not the PO) that he was a crook and a liar all along and had just been too weak to admit it.

You have not so far disputed a single word in that comment. Do you dispute it now? On what basis?

And do you really think Cunningham doesn't belong in prison? Yikes. BTW, if he had NOT gone to prison, your fellow lefties would be howling -- justifiably for once -- that the powerful get special treatment.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 11, 2011 8:57:52 PM

John: In 95% of cases, the adjudicated charge is fictitious. So I stab someone 50 times. She is too terrified to testify. I will walk soon. The DA offers me a criminal trespass charge and its maximum sentence. I am now on the books for a non-violent crime. You come along and think my 5 years is excessive. To you my crime sounds like I broke in to pee, and ate a sandwich from the fridge.

The lawyer has it rigged so that it is impossible to judge whether the rate of incarceration is too much or too little.

I believe the prison population should be 90% smaller than it is. Prison should be restricted to 1 and 2 of 123D. I would like to see 90% of criminals executed before they reach their peak of criminal activity in their 20's.

Please, remember, when you oppose such a proposal, you are supporting the death penalty for 17,000 murder victims. It is a package deal. Support for abolition is support for eradication of murder victims, including 100's of little kids a year.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 12, 2011 12:30:30 AM

Cunningham's character doesn't seem especially relevant when you consider that a sizable and growing chorus of more credible voices, including some I assume even you'd respect, has been singing precisely the same tune over the past ten years or so.

Does Cunningham still belong in prison? I don't know. Prison sentences strike me as arbitrary, either pulled from a hat (or other orifice) or based on historic practices that were no less arbitrary in their time. Certainly some folks would be devastated by "only" six months in prison. Yet many inmates do years or decades seemingly without a struggle.

So I can't say if Cunningham has suffered enough for his crimes and neither can you, Bill. All either of us can say with certainty is that he hasn't finished serving his sentence.

Tell me, SC, exactly whom would you put in charge of your 123D system. Certainly not the "dumbass lawyers" (defense, prosecution and judges) you berate at every opportunity. So who then, tribunals of like-minded, vengeful death-penalty zealots?

For different reasons, neither of us cares much for the bizarre bargaining system that's evolved since lawmakers and prosecutors fully embraced the career-enhancing value of targeting far more citizens than they could ever fairly and adequately bring to trial.

Posted by: John K | Apr 12, 2011 11:45:51 AM

John K --

"So I can't say if Cunningham has suffered enough for his crimes and neither can you, Bill. All either of us can say with certainty is that he hasn't finished serving his sentence."

Wrongo. Both of us can say with certainty that he's a remarkably greedy and deceitful man who spent years earning his way to his numerous felony convictions, and the fact that he has them credits, rather than discredits, the system.

The difference is that I WILL say it, and you won't.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 12, 2011 9:46:08 PM

John: I consider judging to be a difficult profession. It is almost unrelated to lawyering, and trained lawyers should be disqualified automatically.

My hair cutter went to beauty school 2000 hours. She took a lengthy written test. Licensing officials watched her cut the hair of three different types of people. She has a license. Judging has to be at least as difficult as cutting hair. Yet, amateurs are appointed or elected, without training, let alone testing.

No. There should be separate professional judging schools. Middle aged people who have taken responsibility in other fields would apply and be accepted. They would undergo 2 years of judge training. The main message? Obey the law, do not remake the law. The third year of judge school would be spent judging real cases with supervision. Then they qualify to take a judge licensing examination. Licensed judges are allowed to run for office or to get appointed to the bench.

While what they do is inherently dangerous, and they qualify for strict liability in torts, they would be liable only for deviations from professional standards of due care for their mistakes. Each would be required to carry insurance for the compensation of those injured by their carelessness. Because of this liability, they must be allowed to investigate.

The salary would be triple that of today. Bonuses for saving money, and for lowering the crime rate.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 13, 2011 9:10:13 PM

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