By Richard Wembe Johnson, Folsom Prison
There have been some new positions taken with regard to changing the laws that would allow some prisoners the opportunity to be released according to the “time fitting the crime.”
These positions are opposed to someone being given an essential life sentence if the person’s crime doesn’t warrant it.
At the same time, just the opposite is happening. This is not representative of the entire criminal justice system, but rather in certain courts and among prison boards that have the power to release people from prison.
Since new changes are taking place to release only those who are qualified, some courts and board members have taken it upon themselves to impose new language and stratagems that makes it harder for prisoners to be released, even though they may meet all the necessary criteria for release.
The two most prominent roadblocks to a release are: first, the so-called “Release Risk Assessment,” which determines that you are a potential risk to society if you are released even though your case isn’t violent, or if there is no history of violence in the record, and even if all indicators point to you not being violent.
Secondly, they can deny you freedom if they don’t think you have “insight” into your life, your crime, or your predictive future.
This is just as dubious as the first one because now they have their own views on “insight” and what it means. If your view does not comport to theirs, denial of release becomes the expected recourse.
Both of these excuses are a mere pretext, cloaked in deception as preventative measures.
This is so very important because these practices undermine the essential premise of jurisprudence, and it denies justice to all who not only deserve it, but it certainly questions the fairness of law, justice and any sense of equality as it is articulated and practiced.
Unfortunately, there are some instances in releasing certain prisoners that would pose an unreasonable risk. This, however, should be assessed purely on a tightly monitored individual basis, and not used as a working instrument to be employed on everyone.
The same should apply to the so-called “Risk Assessment” to society. It’s like saying the holders of power have a magical crystal ball that shows them the future, and they can predict whether a person would pose a risk. This is utterly ridiculous.
This is important to everyone because if you believe in the idea of justice for all, you should take a stand when it’s abused and misapplied, especially for the most vulnerable in society.
When someone is convicted and is duly punished for their wrong doing, then their debt to society is satisfied, any additional extensions of time is an injustice. Regardless of your personal views on the merits of the criminal justice system, as a society of laws, everybody should be safeguarded by the rule of law, not by the political applications of it.
Prisoners should be afforded the same expectations of eventual freedom after they’ve completed their sentences, and not held in bondage solely based on unscrupulous, questionable antics amounting to “abuse of power” and the discretionary application of it.
And, as we reflect on the roots of Independence Day, I ask you also to remember that slavery too was outlawed. Or, was it?
You can reach Mr. Johnson by letter: Richard Johnson K-53293, CSP-SAC c7-106, P.O. Box 290066, Represa, CA 95671.