Justice and Punishment


What with the recent fortieth anniversary of the Manson family murders, it's worth asking - why are the Manson women still in prison?

They are now all in their early sixties, serving time for crimes they committed while only just old enough to vote. They've expressed remorse for what they've done. They are highly unlikely to re offend and are little danger to society. But there's no likelihood they will be released in the near future. So - what purpose does society fulfill keeping them in jail? Are some crimes simply too monstrous to forgive?

The overwhelming reason the Manson women are likely to die in jail is, of course, that no politician wants to be known as the person that freed the Manson girls; it would cause community outrage. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger knows he'd be eaten alive by Fox News if it happened. But what about the feelings of the victims' families? Whilst I have great compassion for their sufferings, it's important to note we have a justice system for many reasons - and one is to represent all involved with fairness. A fairness that, as a grieving relative, it is understandably difficult to display. Susan Atkins is dying of brain cancer, having lost a leg and with months left to live. However, Sharon Tate's sister Debra opposed Atkins' release on compassionate grounds, saying "She will be set free when judged by God. It's important that she die in incarceration." Such a view is understandable but should Debra Tate be the one making the decision?

Surely justice has been served already with regard to the Manson women. They have served 40 years each in prison - longer than most convicted murderers. The chance for them to do anything meaningful with their post-prison lives is over; they cannot have children or pursue careers. Their continued incarceration serves no purpose other than to fulfill our desire as a society for punishment, for revenge. But is that, in this case, okay?

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