March 20, 2008

Felon Sentenced To Go To Church

This is a guy who at age 17 had accumulated a lengthy rap sheet of violent crime, and appears to have spent at least half his life behind bars. He was first charged with first-degree murder when he was 14 years old. So when being sentenced for evasion of arrest, his lawyer suggests a sentence of probation and time served, on the condition he attends a counseling program run by a local Baptist church, and goes to that church for eight Sundays in a row. The prosecutor thought that was a good idea and concurred in the suggested sentence, which then received the blessing of the judge.

You might think that I'm upset at this because it blurs the line between church and state. In fact, I'm not all that worked up about that. His attorney suggested it, which means he suggested it, and he can go to church if he wants to. Yes, it's a little dicey to be ordered to go to church, but he suggested it first which means that it is a church of his own choosing.

What I do this is absolutely asinine is that the prosecutor and the judge went along with it. It is patently obvious to me that the church, and its counseling program, and its pastor, and even the best possible messages that the church could be giving the guy, is going to do absolutely nothing to turn this guy around. Seriously -- do any of you believe that eight weeks of church is going to rehabilitate a guy who started killing dudes when he was fourteen? Running from the cops is just the beginning with this guy. The newspaper obviously did not have to look that hard to find very recent history of drugs, guns, domestic disputes with his baby-mommas, and killing dudes. This is the sort of guy that prosecutors say is "serving a life sentence on the installment plan." And everyone involved in this story should have known that.

Those had better be some world-class sermons that pastor gives. That had better be one amazing counseling program -- one good enough to get studied by and written up in textbooks and studied by all kinds of behavioral psychologists and criminologists, if eight weeks of counseling and being preached at is going to turn a stone killer around.

Even my most religious and faithful friends will agree with me -- he can go to church twice a day for the rest of his life, but if he doesn't want to change his own behavior, being in the building won't do him a bit of good. Something has to change within himself for this guy to start changing his behavior. I'm sure that religion has done this for some people in the past. But there is absolutely no sign that this will happen in the next eight weeks.

So yeah, I have some reservations about the involvement of a church in the administration of criminal justice. But that's nothing that the consent of the party involved can't largely defuse for me. My real reservation is that the authorities in charge of handling this and representing the interests of society at large not only went along with the suggestion of a slap-on-the-wrist sentence but rather that they entertained even the slightest consideration that this will do anything at all to change this guy's behavior. It's wishful, magical thinking on the part of the judge and the prosecutor that this "go to church" sentence will make even an iota of difference.

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