Victim Impact Statements and their effect on parole

I’ll start out by saying unequivocally that those who have lost a close friend or relative to a violent crime are justly aggrieved and will probably never recover from that loss. The question is (and was) what should be done with that hard and horrible truth? On the other hand, the presence of victims during sentencing, their statements to the judge, and the letters they write before parole hearings have no place in a court of law. I am just as unequivocal in this statement.

The American legal system is especially punitive in this regard. How many people actually practice the Christian ideal of forgiveness? How many people would prefer to have the killer locked up in perpetuity? The real question is how can we use victim statements to assess whether a felon is rehabilitated, no matter if he or she has spent decades in prison? The bottom line is not rehabilitation but revenge. The court facilitates revenge and retribution by using victims’ justifiable anger to argue against early release. Hence the decision to grant parole relies on the idealism of the victim’s relative(s). Watching angry and vindictive people inside a courtroom–hoping that the supposed killer suffers for his entire life–is an ugly and dispiriting experience. (Take a look at Making A Murderer in that regard.)

The Washington State Senate recently debated a bill to allow for early release. What began encouragingly became a dark debate about victim’s rights. It appears as if the bill will die on the table. Washington, a mostly progressive state, has no system of parole whatsoever. This is tragic in so many ways. First, the defendant may be wrongly convicted. It’s a mathematical certainty that some are. Second, the perpetrator might be a senior with a cane or even confined to a wheelchair. How many crimes will they commit upon release? Third, it is ridiculously expensive to house people in prison. Lastly, we should emphasive redemption and forgiveness in a country where many claim to be religious to the core. I guess as long as it doesn’t effect them it’s okay to demand eternal retribution. That’s not what Christianity is about!

Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns were given three 99 year sentences to run consecutively, that’s 297 years. Is this a joke or the expression of a judge whose anger has overwhelmed his judgment. And they are wrongly convicted.