Monday, July 18, 2011

Incarcerating Psychopaths

When the public thinks of prison inmates - if they think at all of that topic - they think of robust, muscle-bound men in mid-life or younger. Social misfits, for the most part, men with violent tendencies to be sure, but also petty criminals, drug dealers, threats to society's peace and good order. They belong in prison. To keep the rest of us, law-abiding citizens safe. It's what we have police for, to track them down, isolate them from the rest of society.

Courts of justice find them guilty as charged of a variety of public criminal offences. And there's a price to pay for that. To give ease of mind to the public at large, that those who abuse the laws meant to protect us all, will not be permitted to ply their illegal trades and violate the public trust. And to demonstrate to the criminals among us that their dedication to crime will not be tolerated, and they are expected to pay the price.

This is society's retribution for the wrongs practised against it. It is also the manner in which we have, as a liberal democracy, agreed that punishment for criminal acts will be meted out. Serious crime begetting serious sentences. For acts of murder in the first degree, automatic life sentences. And if the crimes are sufficiently gruesome and inexcusable, forget parole.

We did away, after all, with Capital Punishment.

So a conscienceless, serial murderer who is found guilty of the charges laid against him will be sentenced to consecutive life sentences. It is hardly likely he will be freed from prison. There he will stay, there he will grow old, there he will become ill from the ravages of advanced age, and there he will die. It is, in fact, another kind of death sentence, it merely takes its time.

There he will also receive costly and advanced medical treatment. And there he will be, in advanced old age, his faculties failing, body breaking down, health severely compromised, wheel-chair bound, dwindling into a feeble, white-haired, dessicated elder. Should he be released into the community, allowed to rejoin his family, permitted to die a free man?

It would free up prison space, free up the work time and attention devoted to him by prison workers, by health and medical workers. Prisons have undergone a physical alteration in recognition of the ageing of its inmates, from more technically advanced and modern medical facilities, to adjusting the facilities with wheelchair accessibility.

Should aged people with diagnoses of advanced, lethal cancers be the recipients of humanitarian regard and allowed to exit prison, to be reunited with extended family, to die in peace, outside a prison setting? Can we consider that they have paid their debt to society through their long penal incarceration?

Here's the story of one 'interesting' inmate, someone who dispassionately murdered two policemen, shooting them in the back of the head after disarming them with their own handcuffs. He was 83, having served 40 years in prison. He pleaded to be dismissed from prison, despite his lack of remorse for his crime and his awful prison record. He died in Kingston Penitentiary's Regional Treatment Centre.
"The board found Hutchison's extensive history of violence both in and out of prison to be more serious than his health problems. Not only had he murdered two police officers, the board noted, but Hutchison and some friends had previously kidnapped another police officer and held him hostage with his own gun. On another occasion, they kidnapped the 14-year-old son of a wealthy businessman and held him for ransom, taping the boy's elderly grandmother to the stairs. Inside prison, Hutchison staged hunger strikes and planned multiple escapes, often faking injuries so he could be taken to an outside hospital where friends would smuggle him weapons. He successfully escaped at age 73 and was caught after a 3-day manhunt."
You be the judge.

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