Redemption: Susan Atkins and Retributive Justice 'Ideals'
As I was perusing the Internet today, I stumbled across an article from CNN about the status of many of Charles Manson's followers in prison. Reading this article hammered home an idea that I've been pondering about lately--and that's that our notions of retributive justice seem to be greatly askew to what they should. In our society, we so often think of criminals as 'needing to be punished' and 'disgraces to society.' Unfortunately for many, once they disappear behind bars, there is no shot of them coming back, no matter what they do. And that seems wrong to me.
Let's look at one of the 'Manson Family' murderers, Susan Atkins. The article on CNN reports that she is paralyzed in over 85% of her body, cannot be moved to a wheelchair, and has terminal brain cancer. She has expressed remorse and admittance of guilt for her actions, and has gone so far as to say that she recognizes that nothing can make up for her actions. She is described as being a model citizen (and the longest serving female inmate in CA) in prison, and helps others, instead of hurting them. Even her prosecutor which convicted her in the first place thinks she should be released. She has been denied parole 18 times now, and is likely to be denied a 19th time when she comes up for parole again later this year.
It seems to me that this is where we get into issues of what our justice system is supposed to accomplish. We see the idea of 'retributive justice' in the response of one of the family members of her victims:
"The 'Manson Family' murderers are sociopaths, and from that, they can never be rehabilitated. They should all stay right where they are -- in prison -- until they die. There will never be true justice for my sister Sharon and the other victims of the 'Manson Family.' Keeping the murderers in prison is the least we, as a society who values justice, can do."
Apparently, there are some which agree with her. LA prosecutors and even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself seem to be against the idea of granting Susan Atkins parole. They claim that she is a 'danger to society' still. I have no idea what threat a 60-year-old model inmate who is 85 percent paralyzed in her body poses, but at least that's the logic.
Aren't we way too caught up in this idea of 'an eye for an eye'? There is a raging debate about the death penalty because so many believe that if you kill someone, you should be killed to. Taking aside the question about whether or not a governing body of humans can really properly lay out 'punishment' for any criminal, these people argue that there is no chance for redemption for people who commit certain crimes. No matter how their hearts and actions and minds change, nothing will convince these people that they should have another shot. It's all because of a rather devolved idea about our justice system--that we should punish above all else, and that what you get should equal what you did.
I argue for something I view as more civilized, and more congruent with what I think the overall goal of our Justice Department should be. We should have a policy of redemption. We as a people should say that no person is beyond changing themselves and becoming a better citizen, no matter what their crime. Some might call it too naive or too idealistic. I call it fair and honest. If a prisoner has exhibited a change in their lifestyle, and true remorse for their problem, they should be granted parole when they become eligible for it. For some, this may take a matter of weeks in prison. For others, it could take years, but everyone should have the chance to make themselves right again.
As Gandhi said, 'an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.'
Oh, and set Susan Atkins free.
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