Friday, March 28, 2014

Capital punishment and Ray Jasper

"Dear Prof. Gilbert,

What a moving piece.[here] I often do not have time to read all your messages but this one caught my eye. After reading it, I learned that, in fact, Ray Jasper was executed today... executed at age 33, how symbolic. I hope and believe that he is in a better place with the other martyrs whom he mentions in his letter.

May God rest his soul - and thank you for your compassion in writing about him.

Yours Truly,
Lorraine Barlett"


Craig Williams sent around two thoughtful, occasionally eloquent notes underlining a serious complication in the case. Jasper apparently did plan and commit murder (see the brother's letter, who opposes capital punishment and grapples with this case here and the court summary here) and deluded himself about his responsibility. This is separate from the further, large issue of whether there should be capital punishment for anyone as opposed to life imprisonment.


In Craig's second letter, he points out that he would defend people he loves. Self-defense, or protection of the innocent, is no crime, even if it results in the death of an attacker (cf. Gandhi's response to a question from his son, "What should I do if someone tries to kill you?" "Stop him.") - though of course, as he imagines, the horror remains.

Given the time pressure in the case (the death penalty in 5 days), I did not investigate this more fully before sending it out: I apologize.

But thanks to Sarah for raising an important issue of justice - for many people on death row are in fact innocent which is why Al Gore, given DNA testing, came to oppose capital punishment during his presidential campaign; 49% are black; and so forth; see the Death Penalty Information Project's Innocence list of 144 prisoners freed from death row here - and to Craig for pursuing it.


Life in prison is a desolating punishment. It permits, however, the possibility of rehabilitation, or if new evidence (DNA, for example) acquittal. Ray Jasper had learned a lot in his time in prison (wrote eloquently about it). Serving out his sentence (and if serious mental help were available in prison), he might have ceased to deceive others and perhaps himself, and come to a different place.

The death penalty is cruelly carried out and an eye for an eye. It is beneath the dignity of a modern democratic states to do such things and most - 100 countries - have rightly abandoned it (the US joins Iran, China and Saudi Arabia among the few states which routinely execute...).

Despite some movement among Eric Holder, Rand Paul and others, the US also still has roughly 25% of the world's prisoners (more than Russia and China combined, for example). See the new Prison Policy Initiative report below. The bloodthirstiness of capital punishment and the singling out of blacks on death row is linked to a veiled police state which sweeps up many. Civilization is a long way up from here...


Craig wrote:

"The other side of the story...

I'm not, in any way, defending the justice system that so obviously broken. However, the picture painted by Mr. Jasper and the reality - that he admitted to in court - is quite different. If we're going to study the story, we need to study the entire story.

Craig Williams II"


"I’m sure this will make for a lively discussion tonight in class, but I will have to miss it. We have parent-teacher conferences tonight.

Since I won’t be there, I thought I’d draft a quick note to express a few of my thoughts.

I cannot - and do not want to - imagine what it must be like to spend seemingly endless days on death row awaiting a permanent punishment. I applaud Jasper for improving his literacy during that time and for being able to state his viewpoints so eloquently. And, it is not unlikely to think that someone facing the death penalty would look for - and find - any shred of evidence that might keep them alive.

Personally, I am conflicted about capital punishment. On the one hand, I don’t believe it is any person’s right to decide whether another person should live or die (or 12 people for that matter). On the other hand, I will defend the innocent and those I love and care about with no bounds. I hope I am never put in a position to decide.

The prison system is broken and that is obvious. I, personally, do not have the solution. I like the idea of having prisoners work, but Jasper makes a valid point about how this is slavery protected by the constitution. I like the fact that prisoners can get educated, but I find it wrong that a murderer can get a college-level education for free (albeit tainted by the felony conviction), and I, as a law-abiding citizen, have to pay for mine [probably we should restore democratic education and abolish debt-slavery for students]. As with many systems, there are positives and negatives. I don’t know that we will find a “perfect” system, but it would do us good to at least try.

To quote Gandhi, "The shreds of individuality cannot be sewed together with a bayonet; nor can democracy be restored according to the Biblical injunction of an “eye for an eye” which, in the end, would make everybody blind.

Any attempt to introduce democracy or to check totalitarianism must constantly emphasize the rehabilitation of personality. Freedom and responsibility help. Rigid authority hinders.
Craig Williams II"


Andrew Sullivan
Chart Of The Day
MAR 18 2014 @ 9:03AM
by Patrick Appel

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) sizes up the prison population:

See the very revealing chart here.

Jon Fasman adds important context:

PPI reckons the United States has roughly 2.4m people locked up, with most of those (1.36m) in state prisons. That is more than the International Centre for Prison Studies estimates, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Remember, though, that number is static: it does not capture the churn of people in and out of incarceration during a given year. For the population in local jails, PPI used the information in Table 1 of this report, which shows how many people were locked up in jails on June 30th 2012 (the last weekday in June), and came up with 721,654 in local jails, as well as another 22,870 immigration detainees housed in local jails under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Around 60.6% of jail inmates have been convicted; 39.4%, which includes the immigration detainees, have not been convicted, either because they had only recently been arrested or because they are awaiting trial and don’t have the money to make bail. Look one page earlier in the report, however, and you’ll see that local jails admitted a total of 11.6m people between July 1st 2011 and June 30th 2012.

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