Within a democratic society, rehabilitation is the core purpose which drives every prison sentence and judicial ruling. Regardless of the offense committed, an individual confined to a prison term is required to receive assistance and help in reforming their behavioral trends, as well as serving a debt towards the society they have harmed. This may be professional help to assist in resolving psychological issues, or more standard assistance provided by educational and social programs of learning.
However, there are are cases which seem to stand as exceptions to this rule, where the perpetrators have been detained with little hope for parole. In these instances, prisoners have often been serving life sentences and become completely institutionalized and accustomed to a specific regime, and yet hold little hope with regards to their release and subsequent freedom. A pertinent question that this raises is whether the justice system has simply failed to reform these individuals, or whether they have done enough in an attempt to rehabilitate their behavior?
High Profile Cases of Long Term Incarceration
While all types of crime are diverse in their nature and cause, some are complicated further by their execution and respective victims. As an example, in September of 2010, Mark Chapman was denied parole for a 6th time during his sentence for the murder of John Lennon in New York in 1980. It was undoubtedly a premeditated murder that reverberated around the world, and one which generated a huge amount of public reaction and scorn directed towards the perpetrator.
However, Chapman has now served 30 years in institution, and his latest parole application was denied on the basis of his release being both inappropriate and not in the interests of the welfare of society. From transcripts of his hearings, two significant points can be deduced. Firstly, it is clear that the authorities believe that due to the planned nature of the crime and length of sentence served, Mark Chapman would prove to be a danger to society and unable to adapt to it. Secondary to this, it is clear that his own safety is a concern given the levels of emotion still affiliated with the crime and its victim.
However, this is contradictory to the purpose of prison incarceration, especially as it is becoming increasingly clear that Chapman will never be released. If we consider that he his unable to participate in outside rehabilitation programs due to the fear of reprisal, then he is restricted in his ability to sample external life and participate in programs of personal growth and improvement. This is a situation that will worsen with time and cause to become more immersed in prison life, meaning that he is in effect being forced to subsist in a life with no potential for future freedom or prosperity.
Protecting Society and the Values of Justice
In the instance of a tragic crime such as this, a strict and rigid interpretation is required to provide equality for everyone. If a perpetrator is considered to still be dangerous to society after 30 years incarceration, and his restrictions mean that the judicial system is unable to deliver the appropriate rehabilitation programs required, then it is realistic to assume that he has no potential for future release. Keeping a perpetrator in this perpetual cycle of incarceration is not only questionable, but also at odds with the primary principles of US justice.
Some would argue that a murderer should serve a life term in prison considering their actions, but this is a huge misjudgement of human nature. There remain two significant classifications of criminal. The first of these concerns criminals who commit their offences due to illness, compulsion or need, many of whom are either unaware that their acts were immoral or simply immune to conscience. The second refers to criminals who act under the influence of passion or rage, and this type of perpetrator is far more likely to regret their offences over a period of time.
While the first type of criminal is more likely to commit crimes that are both high profile and abhorrent in their nature, the notion of them remaining behind bards to consider their crimes pays no heed to the lack of awareness or conscience concerning their acts. On the other hand, a crime committed in the heat of the moment or out of passion will encourage empathy from society, but its perpetrator is likely to encounter both remorse and extended period of reflection. Considering this within the boundaries of a fair diplomatic judicial system, It would therefore seem reasonable that a criminal who is considered without awareness of their crime or a realistic potential for reform should face capital punishment rather than indefinite prison terms and persistent false hope of release.
Reforming Law to Protect Democratic Values
While this may seem harsh, it is compatible with the principles of civilized judicial values. Prison terms are implemented to rehabilitate an offender, in order that they can become contributing members of society upon release. If an offender is considered beyond redemption for whatever reason, then an indefinite prison term becomes an exercise in futility for tax payers and penal institutions alike. To reform this situation, a government regime has two options. It can either improve its current systems to do everything within its scope to reform offenders, or determine an alternative course of action where perpetrators are considered to be unsuitable to specific rehabilitation programs. Only then can the dignity of the US judicial be upheld while maintaining its citizens safety.