Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off the wall comments on my letter to the editor

In today's Corvallis Gazette-Times a letter of mine appears. It reads as follows:

With Oregon’s governments under financial pressure, Gov. Kulongoski has been looking for ways to economize. Here is an idea that would save $82,000, which could spare a teacher from being laid off or fill a few dozen potholes:

Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were recently sentenced to 16 months in prison for not taking their son to a doctor when this might have saved his life. Since it costs $84.46 a day to keep someone in prison, imprisoning the Beagleys will cost $82,002.21.

This imprisonment is not needed as punishment. The Beagleys already have been severely punished by the loss of their son. Instead, sending them to prison is intended to encourage other members of their church to take their kids to a doctor when they need to, in order to avoid joining them in prison.

This makes sense. But this warning message can be transmitted to church members without actually sending the Beagleys to prison.

Gov. Kulongoski could commute their sentence, conditioned on their not repeating their offense, and with a pointed and well-publicized comment that he would not commute similar sentences for acts committed after the date of their sentencing. This would save the $82,000 and yet send the same message that imprisoning them would.

At a time when people convicted of criminal actions, and not just negligence, are being released from prison early because of the financial crunch, commuting the Beagley’s sentences would be a no-brainer, and I urge the governor to do this at his earliest convenience.

Paul deLespinasse, Corvallis

The very first comment posted on-line is a fascinating example of intemperance combined with an apparent failure to understand the nature of my argument. Note the characterization of the parents whose negligence arguably caused the death of their son as "child-murdering cult members" and "defective parent[s] who think[ ] killing their child is what their imaginary sky fairy wants."

I find that such intemperance often comes from people who post anonymous comments and I can understand their desire not to be associated with them.

This commentator failed to explain why the expenses of prosecuting other parents would be more likely to be incurred if the current couple is not actually jailed. They do not explain why the deterence effect would be lessened by the conditional commutation that I suggested.

Here is the comment in all of its profundity:

token scientist said on: March 16, 2010, 9:38 am

And how much does it cost to prosecute these cases? Is it worth it to set some child-murdering cult members free just to save some money on incarceration if we just end up spending even more money on prosecuting the next defective parent who thinks killing their child is what their imaginary sky fairy wants?

Another, also mercifully anonymous, comment was simple and to the point:

TS said on: March 16, 2010, 12:52 pm

I would rather they would have recieved [sic] the death sentence, could be done rather cheap.
This proposal indeed breaks new ground. American law has never provided the death penalty for negligent homicide, as far as I know. (There is precedent, however, in the former USSR. Briefly back during the Khrushchev period they decided that drunk drivers were killing too many people in accidents, and decreed that such people would be executed. This seemed kind of extreme, but might have been legitimate except for the fact that they applied the new rule ex post facto, that is to drunk drivers who had killed someone before the new rule had been adopted! Even among Soviet lawyers this raised so many eyebrows that the regime reversed this policy in a hurry!)

Sentencing the Beagley's to death is, of course, impossible because our laws provide for no such thing in this case. But even if they could be sentenced to death, it could not be done "rather cheap"! Under Oregon law people usually linger on death row for fifteen or twenty years before they are executed, if ever. Now at $84.46 per day it would cost our taxpayers $616,558 to keep these two people in prison for 10 years, or well over a million dollars for 20 years.

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