The killing of a 62 year old woman last week turned into a political battle over three-strikes laws with a sideshow on plea bargains. Not too long after news broke that Leslie Williams, a probationer, was arrested for one murder and one attempted murder, Gov. Rell renewed her calls for a three-strikes law.
State lawmakers called her out on this, not so subtly suggesting that the was using this tragedy to push her political agenda. They also pointed out that Williams would have had only one “strike” against him and thus, there really was no reason to use this crime to reignite the three-strikes debate.
But they just couldn’t leave it at that.
The problem is not the lack of strong enough criminal penalties, but that prosecutors plea bargain down from offenses that would put offenders away for longer periods, [Judiciary Committee co-chair Mike] Lawlor said. If the suspect had been convicted of what he was originally charged with — first-degree sexual assault — he would have received a 10-year minimum sentence instead of the eight years he received on the plea bargain.
Prosecutors are part of the executive branch, which Rell heads, Lawlor said. She should have talked to Waterbury State’s Attorney John Connelly — never accused of being soft on defendants — to find out why his office agreed to the plea bargain, Lawlor said. Connelly needs to explain that, he said.
And explain it Connelly did. I don’t have to explain the reasons behind, or the importance of, plea bargaining to those of you in the field. Apparently, these basic truths are lost on our legislators, however – or maybe they’re simply ignoring reality in an attempt to win this public battle of perception in an election year. Questioning plea bargaining practices as a whole is a dangerous game to play.
The Courant, of course, has been lapping this up, publishing numerous stories every day. Maybe other news media organizations are doing the same.
Yet, while they discuss plea bargaining, whether sex offenders should have privacy in homeless shelters, whether Rell’s position on three-strikes is inconsistent with her other positions, I have seen little to no mention of the real big problem here: society’s aversion to the reintegration of sex-offenders and the numerous obstacles placed in their path.
One can argue that no matter the resources available to Williams, he would have re-offended. I have no way of arguing for or against that. We will never know. Yet, here is a man (one among thousands) who upon release lived in two homeless shelters. He was sleeping in the victim’s car prior to the incident.
The mass hysteria surrounding sex offenders in our communities in well documented. The utter lack of rehabilitation in our correctional system is well known to those in the field. We can go on increasing punishment for crime all we want, yet that only underscores our utter ignorance (or disregard) of the causes of crime. Probably the only sensible thing I’ve read in the past few days is Rell’s acknowledgment that we will never be able to stop crime (I’m not sure whether she actually believes that); yet we act as if that is a realistic goal.
If we are not willing to fund programs that rehabilitate and make it easier for the recently released to seamlessly reintegrate into society, then we are not really tackling the problem and enhancing public safety. We might as well start handing out life sentences for all crimes.
Previous, similar thoughts here.