Life in Prison: Not An Adequate Alternative to Execution
Consider some recent news items, all from the past several weeks:Death penalty opponents have been pushing “life without parole” as an alternative to execution. But they can’t really, honestly, promise that.
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- A worldwide security alert is issued after 23 inmates escape from prison in Sanaa, Yemen; among those at large is Jamal Badawi, mastermind of the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. Badawi had been sentenced to death, but on appeal his penalty was reduced to 15 years. Another of the escapees is Fawaz al-Rabe’ie, convicted for his role in the deadly bombing of a French oil tanker in 2002.
- Joseph Druce, a convicted murderer serving a life term in Massachusetts, is found guilty of murdering fellow inmate John Geoghan, a former priest serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for sexually molesting a child. Judge Francis Fecteau imposes a penalty of life in prison without parole, in effect adding nothing to the life sentence Druce is already serving.
- Germany releases Mohammed Ali Hammadi, a Hezbollah terrorist serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of US Navy diver Robert Stethem during a hijacking in 1985. Under German law, even murderers imprisoned for life become eligible for parole after 15 years, and Hammadi has been behind bars for more than 18 years. Though German authorities deny it, some observers suspect that Hammadi’s release is connected to the freeing of a German hostage held in Iraq a few days later.
Germany’s 15-years-and-out “life” sentence is reminiscent of the Massachusetts policy under former governor Michael Dukakis, when even defendants sentenced to life without parole could look forward to regular weekend furloughs and eventual release on parole. Other states have been just as casual about turning killers loose. In Louisiana, that state’s supreme court noted in 1982, “it was common knowledge that life imprisonment generally means 10 years and six months.” According to The New York Times, in his first two years as California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger “paroled 103 lifers, 89 of them murderers.”
Not only do prisoners escape, but courts, governors or even legislatures who become sympathic to certain classes of offenders can always decide to let the killer off the hook, notwithstanding that a jury thought it was putting a killer behind bars for life.