Serious question: Why not mandatory life sentences for murderers, rapists, and child predators?

The gist of the plan is right there in the title, but I’ll expound briefly.

After the revolution (which is scheduled for next Thursday, around tea time.) the new powers that be will put me in charge of administering justice. My plan is a simple one. Firstly, I would legalise all so-called victimless crimes, prostitution, drug use etc… Not only would this be (I think) the right thing to do, it would free up jail space for phase two of my plan: The mandatory life imprisonment of all convicted first degree murderers, rapists, and violent child sexual predators in Federal Supermax prisons without the merest scintilla of a possibility of parole, ever.

This is the aspect of the plan I want to discuss. Frankly, I can’t understand why we don’t do this already. As far as I’m concerned, murderers, rapists, and violent pedophiles have basically chosen to evict themselves from the human race. To me, a convicted murderer is simply not an object of my moral concern. I’d care more about a dog in the street than I would about such a person. Furthermore, given that support for capital punishment, 3 strike laws, and longer sentences remains high, I’m willing to wager that this sentiment is shared by a majority of the population.

In the case of murderers, I basically think that for every day their victims remain dead, they should remain in prison. They have forfeited their right to expect anything more than that which is needed to sustain them in the short term.

In the case of rapists and pedophiles, their crimes are crimes of compulsion, and since modern medicine has a truly abysmal record of ameliorating those compulsions, it makes sense to keep rapists and child predators in jail for life as the risk of recidivism is simply so high. Of course, I don’t mean to neglect the point that their crimes are reprehensible and deserving of very long sentences.

Here are the pros as I see them:

  1. Mandatory life sentences would send a message that such crimes are not tolerated by society.
  2. Mandatory life sentences have an advantage over capital punishment in that those who are found to have been wrongly convicted can be released and compensated, even after a great many years.
  3. The recidivism rate would be extremely low indeed. The pool of potential victims would be narrowed to basically just other inmates and, frankly, no great loss there.

Here are the cons:

  1. It would be very expensive and we would quickly run short of cells. This is true, however, I think this could be at least partially ameliorated by legalising victimless crimes and releasing non-violent drug offenders from prison.
  2. Some of these prisoners may, if redeemed, manage to do good with their lives. This is also true. However, a great many more, would, if recidivism statistics are to be believed, go on to do great evil with their lives instead. Besides, if a prisoner is truly redeemed he would not let prison be an impediment to good works. The notorious Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams spent 20 years crusading against gang violence from inside his prison cell. He certainly didn’t let his incarceration stop him. Also, under my system, he would still be alive and fighting the good fight today.

That’s about it, as far as I can tell.

So, yeah. What do you make of my ‘One Strike And You’re Out’ rule for first degree murderers, rapists, and violent child molesters?

Rape and murder are the two common crimes with the lowest recidivism rates. Largely because they’re primarily carried out by young men, and carry long sentences so once someone’s been caught, by the time they leave jail they’ve aged enough that they’re no longer in the demographic groups that tend to commit the crimes they were arrested for.

So keeping them behind bars longer then the several decade sentences we already do would only have a minor effect on murder/rape rates. On the other hand, it would be very expensive, since elderly prisoners are a lot more expensive then young ones due to increasing medical costs.

So in short, I’m pretty sceptical keeping a bunch of geriatric murderers behind bars until they expire would be the best use of crime prevention money. We’d almost certainly keep the public safer by using the funds to try and prevent new rapes and murders then continuing to punish ones that happened decades ago.

These isn’t much evidence that even capital punishment causes any real deterrent effect, if I remember rightly. Do you have any reason, beyond the vastly overrated common sense, to think this will have the effect you’re looking for?

I would argue if you’re going to give someone a life sentence, in a civil society it’s your responsibility to do what you can to ensure they keep that life. I get you value these criminals less than other people, but I’d be wary of the position you take here.

I’d be interested to see the figures but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of people going in to the prison system for “victimless crimes” far outweighs the number of convicted murderers and rapists coming back out. If this is true, you should have no issue with space, although some prisons may need to be converted.

Apart from that, I think you need to be clearer on who’s going into these jails. You say, variously, “violent child sexual predators”, " “violent pedophiles” and just “pedophiles”. If you’re doing away with victimless crime, paedophilia shouldn’t be illegal in itself. To make it so would be to create a thought crime. What about rapists? Are they all included? Or is this just the “dark alley” type rapes?

If you make the penalty for rape the same as murderer, rapists will be more likely to kill their victims.
If there is no possibility of getting time off for good behaviour, prisons will become much, much nastier places than they now are.

Those are two very good points.

Because the purpose of incarceration is (nominally, anyway) rehabilitation. Not revenge.

Surely the purpose of incarceration is whatever we decide it to be.

I’m not in favor of a system by which sentencing loses middle grounds, but OTOH I will grant that the OP proposal would be a more honest approach than *“We’ll give you 10-to-15 but then at the end we’ll keep finding reasons beyond your defined sentence date to retain you in ‘protective treatment’ or impose restrictions that make it impossible to live or work productively anywhere; or, we’ll give you 20-to-life with possibility of parole but we’ll keep coming up with reasons to deny parole no matter what.” *.

I don’t really believe that is true. In several states the penalty for rape and murder are both potentially life in prison (life for rape is much rarer than for murder), and I also seriously doubt even 1-2% of rapists are cognizant of this fact in those respective states. I don’t believe someone becomes a murderer because of issues like this, it takes a different mindset to rob someone than to rape someone, a different mindset to rape someone than to kill someone etc. You’re assuming a person willing to rape is willing to murder, and that’s not necessarily true.

I’m not sure what I think about life sentences for rape as a blanket rule, but I do believe all murders should carry a mandatory, no exception, life sentence. [Note I’m referring specifically to the legal concept of murder, which is different from involuntary / voluntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide and etc]

When it comes to criminal punishment I’ve always advocated alternative (non-prison) punishments for drug crimes and non-violent crimes (white collar crimes, frauds, theft etc) and basically life sentences for any violent crime because I feel like the people who commit violence are the ones we don’t want in society and I’m not convinced they “deserve” an opportunity at rehabilitation. Justice I feel demands a permanent punishment for crimes with permanent consequences for the victim.

Actually historically criminal justice served two, related purposes:

  1. Societal stability
  2. Socialization of revenge.

They are interrelated, before criminal justice systems if someone wronged you or your family you had to decide on a response. You got your friends and brothers and cousins together and lied in wait to attack either the perpetrator or his family, either assaulting them or killing them to get satisfaction for your wrong. This leads to familial vendettas/feuds and a host of issues relating to general societal lawlessness. Ordered societies very early on saw that there needed to be a better way to resolve wrongs between persons.

The only way to do so is to have a somewhat impartial government look at the issue and decide how it must be resolved. For this system to work, when someone has clearly been demonstrated to have wronged another person, that individual must be punished. If they aren’t then society doesn’t buy in to the government as law giver and you end up back where you started with feuding and general societal instability.

That may not be the entirety of why we still have criminal justice systems, but neither is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is a 19th century Quaker concept and isn’t the be all end all of why we have criminal justice systems.

You really shouldn’t use “pedophile” and “child molester / child sexual predator” interchangeably. Not all pedophiles molest children, and not all child molesters are pedophiles.

Also a good point. Perhaps Aspidistra was thinking of what I referred to earlier as a “dark alley” rape - that’s certainly what I thought of when he/she made the point. But it’s probably true that most rapists would see no need to kill their victims and would probably see huge moral difference between the rape and the potential murder. This brings me back to my question of whether it’s all rapists that go in, or just some.

That said, even if the penalty for rape and murder are currently both potentially life in prison, committing both, especially murder to cover up a rape, would surely vastly decrease any chances of ever getting out of prison, perhaps along with other potential consequences that may at the discretion of the judge or others. If the penalty for one rape were exactly the same as one rape and one murder, people may act differently. If nothing else, the simplicity of the system would probably increase the percentage of rapists cognizant of exactly what will happen to them if caught.

Why should a rapist get a longer custodial sentence than someone convicted of attempted murder?

I don’t believe they should. I generally believe any murder or attempted murder should carry mandatory life terms. The mens rea is absolutely the same either way, and they made an actual attempt to act on their motivations.

Any seriously violent crime leaves life long damages and thus the prisoner should be in prison for life, but even an attempted murder that leaves no injury should be similarly punished because it has that same ill intent.

But for me “seriously violent crime” is obvious in some cases and not in others, so we’d have to think reasonably about what that means. For example I know a case where two guys beat a college kid into a coma 2 years ago. He’s now in a minimally-conscious / vegetative state for the rest of his life with little to no chance of ever recovering. The two offenders received a 2 year and a 10 year sentence. To my mind, that crime is one in which the penalty should have been life, because it left life long serious consequences for the victim.

I guess to me, if your violent crime has caused “significant reduction in quality of life due to physical injuries sustained in the crime more than one year after the commission of the crime or it is obvious the injuries would cause such reduction” I’d advocate the offender be imprisoned for life.

Rape is a borderline one because it doesn’t necessarily meet that definition.

They’re already not tolerated by society. People who commit those crimes can be punished by decades to life in prison or in some cases by execution. But I don’t think people who kill or rape think about it in those terms, so the message doesn’t matter. This is just the kind of thing politicians like to say because it sounds good and makes you feel good about yourself if you don’t think about it.

A cite would be appreciated since if recidivism rates for these crimes are already low, you’d be wrong here.

I think we’re already tying the hands of judges and juries with excessive minimum sentencing laws, and this would make it a lot worse. Aside from the issue of maybe encouraging people to kill their victims, there are some other reasons we don’t give life sentences for everything. One is that we recognize the fact that circumstances make some crimes different from others. Another is the fact that we’re recognizing that in some cases people who have committed terrible crimes may be able to contribute something to society later in life. Mandatory life sentences would eliminate that possibility.

Please, please, please DO NOT explain what this means.

I agree. This component of the system is really screwed up and it needs to be fixed. I don’t think anyone involves knows what they’re doing, and it makes very little sense. If these people need to be in jail, keep them in jail. If we’re sure they are not dangerous, let them out. Don’t keep them in mental facilities forever while doing nothing for them except taunting them with the possibility of freedom that won’t be granted.

Why would you think that? A sentence of life in Pennsylvania means just that, all life sentences are without the possibility of parole. Five other states treat all life sentences the same way and life without the possibility of parole can be imposed as a sentence in 32 states. The OP might be a bit knee-jerkish in its wording, but I wouldn’t be opposed to life without the possibility of parole being the norm for a conviction of murder. I don’t like mandatory sentencing as it removes any judicial discretion in any circumstances; but I can’t see why life without parole shouldn’t be the norm. I am opposed to the death penalty, but as far as I’m concerned by committing murder one has forfeited their right to live in a free society ever again. Their victim certainly is never going to be able to do that ever again.

Once the death penalty is finally off the table, the anti-DP activists will take a long weekend, and on Monday start advocating for the elimination of the “inhumane” Life Without Parole sentencing.

Because the OP is proposing that a lot more people get life sentences. Just as an example, in New York you can get a life sentence for murder or first-degree arson or the use of a chemical of biological weapon, and that’s it. I don’t think it’s common for rapists to get life sentences. And just to show what that might do statistically, there were 744 reported murders in New York State in 2010. There were 2,752 “forcible rapes.” So if you pretend all the murderers got life sentences (which I am sure is not the case) and then add in all the rapists you’re almost quadrupling the number of life sentences.

Around 10% of all U.S. federal and state prisoners are serving life sentences. I’ll guess the OP is proposing that number quadruple, and it’s already gone up a lot over the last couple of decades.

If you mandate a particular punishment for all crimes of a certain class, you lose a lot of flexibility in trying deal with a wide variety of circumstances.

Are rape and murder terrible crimes? Yes. Are all instances of rape and murder morally equivalent? I would argue that they are not.

Is a man who burgles a house, is startled by the owner and knocks him to the ground while running away, killing the man with a head injury (felony murder), morally equivalent to a serial killer?

Is a violent rapist morally equivalent to an 18-year-old who has sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend?

I would argue that they are not. In fact, I’d argue that the teenagers’ actions shouldn’t even be a crime, but it is in many states. By mandating a particular punishment for a wide range of crimes, we end up treating them as the same. Prosecutorial and judicial discretion are an important part of our justice system.

Ah, the slippery slope argument. The easiest to make!