Thomas Sowell

When the sentence for Andrea Yates' killing her five children was announced, most of the media reported it as a life sentence and some noted that she would be eligible for parole in 40 years. In reality, Andrea Yates can be freed at any time by any present or future Texas governor for any reason, including wanting to court the feminist vote by commuting her sentence or issuing a pardon.

The point here is not that Andrea Yates received too light a sentence. Perhaps she should not have been convicted in the first place, as columnist Charles Krauthammer -- a former psychiatrist, but by no means a hired gun -- has argued. The point is that the sentences handed out in courtrooms are not the sentences actually served.

What is the point of lying to the public about sentences? Apparently some believe, brushing democracy aside, that the benighted masses need only be mollified with words, while the anointed control what actually happens.

Time off for good behavior is one of the ways of reducing the sentences handed out in courtrooms. But does the fact that someone behaves himself behind bars indicate that he will behave himself after being released back into society? If he behaves well behind bars, why not let him stay behind bars until he serves out his sentence?

Parole is even more of a shot in the dark. How can anyone imagine himself capable of predicting what another human being will do, in circumstances wholly different from those in which he currently lives while imprisoned? Anyone so self-infatuated as to believe himself possessed of such clairvoyance about strangers is the last person to be trusted with the power to risk the public's safety on such guesses.

Probation is another exercise in deception and self-deception. To speak of a probation officer with scores of probationers as "supervising" them is to take wishful thinking to new highs. So-called "supervised" furloughs from prison are another dangerous gamble behind the public's back.

Victims of probationers and prisoners on furlough include those who have paid with their lives for the optimism of "experts." But those who turned them loose do not even pay the price of being personally identified as having made these disastrous decisions -- and so can keep on making more disastrous decisions with the same unruffled confidence as ever.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate