Film maker John Waters makes a great case in a post on Huffington Post for why "Manson girl" Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted with Manson for the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca forty years ago, should be paroled. Waters argues that Van Houten, like the other tools of Manson's insane meglomaniac plan to become the supreme leader following an apocalyptic race war (or Helter Skelter) which he hoped the Tate and LaBianca murders would create,was brainwashed by the heavy drugs and cult like practices the family engaged in. She long ago broke with Manson, and accepted responsibility for her part in the terrible killings. During decades in prison since (and one short stint free after her conviction was overturned) Van Houton has transformed herself. Waters notes that other women on death row at the time the penalty was struck down and all such sentences converted to life were all parole after nine or ten years. Why is Van Houten (and the others) still in prison? Because no crime has ever generated as much popular fear as the Manson family killings, and fear of crime governs in California.
I second Water's proposal that we parole Van Houten. She is a threat to no one and by the standards of most of the rest of the planet, forty years, even for a brutal murder, is excessive punishment. I would go one further. Maybe, and I say this without having had a chance to review his prison records, we should consider paroling the man himself.
I have come to believe that our state's commitment to mass imprisonment is anchored in a deep fear of violent crime that may well have crystallized first around the Manson murders. Our out of control fear of violent strangers, leads to over-punish both the violent and the non-violent (who we fear may turn violent). We need to purge ourselves of this fear in the most potent proven way; by facing it. Paroling Van Houton in a way is too easy. We really aren't afraid of her. But if Manson himself, now 74, were released, albeit under heavy supervision, and he lived out his days without harming anyone, it would be a dramatic experience akin to a person with a spider phobia allowing a tarantula to walk over their naked body.
Is it absurd to consider paroling Manson? Again, I don't know what his prison record is like and I doubt he has ever accepted responsibility for the crimes. Still, at 74 he is unlikely to develop another group of LDS popping disciples around him. Of course the families of Sharon Tate and other victims will feel outraged, but really how much punishment is warranted? In much of the world even mass murderers get out of prison eventually. Indeed, most of the Nazi high command that was not executed, was imprisoned for less than 25 years. Perhaps Manson should never be paroled, but a parole process that gave him real consideration would be step in the right direction. In the meantime lets parole Van Houton and the rest of that sad and misguided group of former devotees for whom "creepy crawling" for Manson was the ultimate "bad trip."