Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Too Much

Part of our problem in California is that we imprison way too many people who do not need to be in prison at all (virtually all drug offenders in my view). But part of our problem is that we imprison people who do need to be in prison for way too long. Case in point is Jared Adams, 26, of Oakland.

Jared needs to be in prison. He was convicted of a string of serious violent felonies committed in late December 2007, and early January 2008. Adams was convicted of firing three shots during an armed robbery of a service station, one of which paralyzed Christopher Rodgers (now 12) as he was taking a piano lesson in Oakland. Adams also tried to carjack an automobile on the streets of downtown Oakland by pointing his gun in the face of the driver (who turned out to be Senator Don Perata of Oakland).

Is Adams a danger to his community? You betcha as Sarah Palin might say. Does he need to be isolated from the community and lose his freedom? Oh Yeah. But for how long?

Yesterday Judge Larry Goodman of Alameda County Superior Court sentenced Adams to 70 years to life in prison, meaning Adams, now 26, will not be even eligible for parole until he is 86. According to Demian Bulwa's reporting in the SFChron (read it here), Judge Goodman took the occasion to forcefully express his frustration with violent crime in Oakland:

"In Mr. Adams' world, there are simply victims and predators, and when they see something they want, they take it," Goodman said in sentencing Adams in Alameda County Superior Court.

He called Adams a parasite in a city where residents are frustrated with violence. Then he read out all of Adams' convictions and their corresponding sentences, a process that took more than 15 minutes.

But is frustration and anger the best foundation for judgment? Consider this. Jared Adams is a scary guy right now, but what will he be like at 40? When was the last time you read about a 40 year old shooting up a service station, or carjacking an automobile in broad day light? It doesn't happen. Criminologists have known for decades that aging diminishes even the most potent criminal motivation.

So from 40 on, through his 50s, his 60s, his 70s, and his 80s, California tax payers will be paying some 50K a year plus inflation to house Mr. Adams, who will no longer pose virtually any risk to the community.

And how much do you think Mr. Adams will feel those decades going by as punishment? Assuming he hasn't become completely insane (which does happen), the experience of most long term prisoners suggests that after a decade or two, people adjust to prison life and no longer feel its deprivations.

So for forty of the next sixty years you, and I, and our kids, will be paying to house Jared Adams in a state prison, even though he will no longer pose a risk to us, and will no longer experience it as punishment.

Thanks Judge Goodman


Melissa said...

Interesting post . . . I'm wondering why you conclude by blaming the judge for this, when it seems like the underlying problem is determinate sentencing. This case is a great illustration of why we need a sentencing commission!

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