Saturday, May 8, 2010

Amy Beck - Burbank Teacher Sentenced to 2 Years

Amy Beck, a teacher, had sex with a 14 year old student. There is no doubt whatsoever this was wrong. She must be dealt with by the justice system.

In her favour, however, consider that it is reported she walked into a police station and confessed. There was no indication in the article I saw that she would have been found out otherwise. There is no indication in that article that the victim had made any sort of complaint. In addition, she apparently entered a guilty plea to the charge so the boy would not have to testify. There is no indication this was anything other than a single affair with one student and was not repeated with anyone else.

It seems to me that she had already come a long way toward correction and rehabilitation. I would have thought that much more could be done by imposing a period of probation during which she would be obliged to attend treatment. Instead she has been put in prison and required to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.

In my opinion, this case is yet another example of how society equates bad behaviour, which must be corrected if possible, with being a bad person, which is not necessarily a life-long reality. Correcting behaviour may be impossible when a person refuses to acknowledge it, but in this case she demonstrated the courage to face her problem directly.

I don't know whether the judge in this case was appointed for life or elected. The problem with being elected is that a judge has constituents he must satisfy if he wants to retain his job, even if he believes he can accomplish the legitimate goals of correction and rehabilitation society requires using less severe means. His options are restricted. The problem with an appointed judge is that they may lose their objectivity, in which case they may need to be removed. That should be possible as well, but in practice is very difficult at best.

In any event, I strongly suspect that society could have been better served by keeping Ms. Beck out of prison and using the resources that would be thereby freed up to bring to bear a reasonably lengthy period of meaningful treatment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

American Justice v Italian Justice - The Amanda Knox Case

Problems with the U.S., U.K., Canadian or any other justice system are irrelevant to whether or not Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were wrongfully convicted. Anyone, from anywhere, has the right and, in my opinion, the obligation to speak out against injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. It scares me more that it appears there may be people in Italy, the U.K., and other places who fear to speak out because of fear of reprisal by the "Guilters" or the "System." If that is so, that is a parallel with the worst systems in the world (like Iran and N. Korea, for example.)

I hope the Italian people and government can see this and will accept what is said in the right spirit. I don't think they want to be like the countries I mention. The Italian government was highly critical of George W. Bush and the State of Texas for the execution of Karla Faye Tucker more than two decades ago, and rightly so in my opinion. I hope they realize that many of us accepted and welcomed their views at the time.

Most justice systems, including the Italian one, are basically good. All have aspects that could be improved. The biggest criticism I have of the Italian system is that it seems to be a criminal act to criticize their police, prosecutors or court. No system of any kind will ever get any better if honest, fair criticism is stifled.

The big problem with any justice system is with the people who operate it. If they lose objectivity, people suffer unnecessarily. Surely most police and prosecutors see that the way they conduct themselves reflects on them and their country, state, and profession. If they act in a way which is clearly fair, convictions will be accepted and justice is the likely result. If not, they bring their justice system and their whole country into disrepute in the eyes of fair minded people throughout the world. This is why there are overriding legislative pronouncements like constitutions, bills of rights, etc. There must be a means of redress where public officials go rogue.

Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito - the "Guilters"

The so-called "Guilters," those who post vicious blogs showing no understanding of the case, are truly perverse.

Even if someone is guilty of a crime (and I strongly believe Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were viciously persecuted and wrongfully convicted,) it is their reaction, to hate and to spew cruelty on the internet, that speaks to who and what the "Guilter" is. To be guilty of a crime is to have fallen into error. The purpose of a civilized justice system is to rehabilitate and correct. While that is occurring, we sometimes need to confine offenders for the protection of society. This is understood and acceptable in a compassionate society.

There are many reasons for criminal acts. Where the cases involve substance abuse, anger management issues or lack of education and opportunity resulting in poverty (for example,) these can be addressed and can be addressed successfully. They can only be addressed with compassion and fairness, however.

This also is why we have a criminal justice and corrections system and don't have victims (if still alive) or their families dispense justice. This is, in fact, historically the reason for legal systems. Back in the days of absolute monarchy, the monarch didn't want his kingdom disturbed or his friends killed by blood feuds. So the king's "court" assumed the responsibility for dispensing justice.

There is only one acceptable outcome for most victims (or their families) and that is "an eye for an eye." Now that we have clawed our way only slightly out of the Dark Ages, we recognize that society as a whole has an interest and an obligation when it comes to justice. We recognize that offenders can be rehabilitated. Not all, but some. Most can be improved at least.

Judging by the "Guilters," it may be that the only material difference between the criminals in prison and those still at large is opportunity, means or luck. I have some experience to support my opinion that most criminals, when caught and treated fairly, will accept the outcome. I have direct knowledge that most criminal prosecutions are disposed of by guilty plea. Where the police and prosecutor do their job competently and fairly, it is usually "no contest."

I am not a fan of pop psychology, but I recall watching a few moments of the Dr. Phil McGraw show. In it he made a good point. We do in fact teach others how to behave toward us. Cruelly abusing others (whether in the justice system or by perverse blog posts of the kind that have been all too common in this case) does nothing to help our society. If we are not going to execute every "criminal," which thought is so barbaric that the majority of the world has rejected capital punishment outright, and if we are not going to warehouse people for jail terms in multiples of their life expectancy, which is so utterly ridiculous it makes those who support those sentences look stupid, we must do what is necessary and right to ensure that the "criminal" is restored to society better than they were when they offended. This, if nothing else, is for our own protection. Having prisoners released without correction and rehabilitation but with an additional burden of anger resulting from cruel treatment, puts everyone in danger.

The question of whether an inmate will be a better person when released than when they committed the offence can only be answered by considering what opportunities he will have for correction and rehabilitation. I firmly believe that a reasonable parole system, which does not deprive inmates of hope and, in fact, offers them opportunities for early release depending upon how well they participate in programs for their rehabilitation and how well they behave while in custody, can only strengthen the likelihood of successful correction. It also provides a major incentive for prisoners to be compliant and keep the peace while in custody.

I have analyzed the Meredith Kercher murder case carefully. I know what I am doing when I consider the reliability of evidence. I have no doubt the convictions of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are wrongful.

To the "Guilters" I say again, that many of you are the real criminals, though some may be simply misguided or incapable of rational analysis. If we take your words at face value, YOU tell us you are capable of acts of cruelty, brutality and murder. At the very least, your words prove you are capable of inciting others to commit acts of cruelty, brutality and murder against another human being.

I would have no hesitation in welcoming Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito into my community or having them work in my office. I would rather share my community and workplace with them, than with "you."

Hope in Italy

Alcun non sia che disperato in preda si doni al duol, benché talor n'assaglia Possente sì che la nostra vita inforsa.
Che poiché nembo rio gravido il seno d'atra tempesta inorridito ha il mondo, dispiega il sol più chiaro i rai lucenti.
E dopo l'aspro gel del verno ignudo veste di fior la primavera i campi.

Alessandro Striggio, from L'Orfeo, favola in musica, by Claudio Monteverdi, Mantua 1607

Mariatu Kamara - The Bite of the Mango

I first came across Ms. Kamara's book via the condensed version in the December 2009 Reader's Digest. Make no mistake, this is an extremely disturbing story. Be forewarned that if you read it and become aware of what happened to Ms. Kamara, and to many others in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, you may never again be able to live in ignorance of the human suffering that exists in the world.

I won't repeat the story, in part because it is very troubling and in part because you should read it as told by Ms. Kamara herself. She deserves the royalty. The book is for ages 14 and up and is intended, in part, for high school students, although it is also very much for adults. To read the story in her own words also allows the tremendous and unqualified triumph of the human spirit that is Mariatu Kamara to shine through.

According to reports I have read, Ms. Kamara is presently studying to be a counselor to people who have suffered as children from the atrocities of war. She is also a Special Representative for UNICEF and speaks to audiences and schools about her experiences.

For myself, reading this story brought home the realization that I have, over the years, missed opportunities to help and to give compassion to those who so need it. I wish I knew 30 years ago what I know now after reading the story of this beautiful and remarkable woman. Buy the book and donate it to your child or grandchild's school library. And, don't miss an opportunity to speak out for human rights, justice, and compassion!