February 14, 2006

Column 41

Before every execution there is supposed to be a clemency hearing. I am not certain of all the details, but it is basically a hearing where the Governor can review the case of the person who is to be executed and decide if there is cause for clemency to be granted and the death penalty vacated. That doesn't mean the person would get out of prison which is what the pro death penalty people try to imply. All it means is the prisoner would have his death sentence changed to Life In Prison Without Parole. Which is basically the same as the death penalty except you don't know when you will die. You are still sentenced to prison until you die and the only way out of prison is when you die.

In the 1970's the death penalty was stopped in the USA and for a number of years there was no death penalty allowed. In the late 1970's the death penalty was reinstated. Since then it has been given with more frequency then it had been given before it was stopped for those few years. I thought it was a interesting fact that in California, before the death penalty was stopped for that brief period, the Governor would grant clemency to about 40% of those facing execution. I don't have hard figures on that 40% though. It is what I had been told. lt could very well be lower or it could be higher than 40,%. After the death penalty was reinstated there hasn't been clemency granted in any of the 13 or 14 executions since the executions resumed.

There was a lot of publicity in the Williams execution in December. A lot of noise made about redemption and how he should be granted clemency. Governor Arnie denied clemency in Tookie Williams case, even though if there was ever justification for granting clemency it was in that case. Arnie didn't have any real reason for not granting clemency. I thought it was just a matter of having bad advice being given to him. As we have seen in the past, Arnie isn't the brightest bulb on the tree and when he has incompetents giving him bad advice it compounds his own tendency to screw up. Like most politicians everything Governor Arnie does is motivated by politics and has nothing to do with what is right or wrong. I was surprised Arnie didn't grant clemency to Williams since it would have made him look like a reasonable and fair person. I guess being a political coward overshadows any good Williams tried to do while on death row. The books Williams wrote and the efforts he put into trying to help kids stay away from the gang lifestyle was not enough to help Arnie overcome his fear of someone saying he was soft on criminals by granting clemency.

I suppose to a lesser extent you could make the same argument in the Ray Allan execution. Here was a 76 year old man who was blind and in a wheelchair and would probably die of natural causes very soon anyway, yet Arnie wouldn't grant clemency in that case either. It is a bit ironic to me that these two men asked Governor Arnie for understanding and forgiveness and Arnie wouldn't grant it, yet here is Arnie doing all he can to get forgiveness and asking for understanding from the people of California after he screwed up the affairs of California even more during his watch. So Arnie wants forgiveness and understanding from the citizens but he is unwilling to do the same for anyone else, especially someone sentenced to death.
An interesting thing I've noticed when there was coverage on the news about the issue of clemency and the reporters would talk to the prison spokesperson about clemency. The prison makes a real effort to try and define the prisoner to the media and the public. In most cases they get away with this and can say whatever it is they want to because they know the news media is too lazy to do any research or checking of facts on their own. In the Williams case the prison was claiming Williams was still involved with gangs and how Williams was still associating with other gang members when he went to the yard. What the prison forgot to mention (purely a oversight I'm sure) was how Williams is assigned to a yard by a classification board in the prison and he has to go where the prison says. Williams didn't have any choice in associating with gang members since the prison assigned him to be with other gang members. When this misleading attempt of the prison was pointed out to the media by Williams lawyers and family, the prison backtracked and said Williams didn't turn into a snitch for the prison. So according to what the prison is saying, if you don't turn into a snitch or cooperate with the officials then there is no redemption.

In the Ray Allan case, when the matter of clemency was discussed with the media by the prison officials, the prison claimed Allan was a charismatic and influential prisoner who was manipulating others. When I heard this prison spokesman say this (with a straight face no less) I could just shake my head in disbelief. Allan was in a wheelchair and blind. I think charismatic and influential and manipulative would be things he wasn't. The prison knows if they say certain things about prisoners like ‘they are a manipulator and charismatic’ as well as various other catch phrases they use to describe prisoners which they know the public will react to in a certain way. If anyone is an expert on manipulation it would be the prison and legal system.

I think if you observe the behavior of the prison system and those who work in that system, they are under the impression that it is their job to punish prisoners. For some reason they feel they are supposed to find ways to punish those in prison. They seem to be unaware of the fact that it isn't their job to punish those in prison or those with the death penalty. When it comes to executions or for those prisoners who are serving a regular prison sentence, the punishment is given by the courts and not by the prison system or those who run it. The punishment is the loss of freedom (in most cases) or the death penalty in some cases. It seems the prison system routinely oversteps it's authority and purpose in these matters.

I wonder what the result would be if the prison and legal system put as much effort and energy into pursuing rehabilitation and trying to prepare prisoners for success when they leave prison, rather then putting all that energy into a misguided notion that they are supposed to punish the prisoners. Like I said before, being sent to prison and losing ones freedom or (in the cases of a few) being put to death, are the punishments handed out by the courts. Not by the prison system.

I seem to have gone off on a tangent. Hopefully you get the gist of what I mean. Clemency or redemption or being a manipulator or being charismatic and all those other adjectives. They are all words that are designed to distract from what is right or wrong. When you start hearing prisoners described as manipulators or charismatic you should examine the motives of those who are saying it.
That's it for me for this one. I am out of here. Thanks for listening.