As much as I want to believe in the American legal system, it’s not perfect. Sometimes it screws up. Being made by imperfect beings, it can’t be anything but imperfect, and I understand that.
However, “imperfection” does not even come close to describing the absolutely colossal fuck-up committed by authorities in Alabama and Arkansas in the case of Benjmamin Bishop.
Bishop was charged with 74 counts of rape in Alabama years ago. The authorities reduced the number charges to 10, and he was convicted of six. It should be noted, according to one article, that all of the charges were against two young female family members. While I didn’t find any info on the when he was originally convicted, him getting out of jail any time sooner than Jesus Himself could come open the cell door for him seems too light to me. Not so in Alabama, where he not only didn’t get a sentence of life plus keeping his corpse in a cell for an additional 60 years just to make sure he got the point, he was paroled, marked as a level four sex offender (different states have different levels; Alabama labelled him at level four, meaning he was likely to re-offend) and moved to Earle, Arkansas, in 2007. Surprise of all surprises, no one was notified of the dangerous status of Bishop and, of course, he sexually assaulted a female family member last week. (Normally, I would say “allegedly,” but in this case, the benefit of the doubt has stepped out for a smoke break.)
So what happened? How was a dangerous sexual predator even let out of jail, let alone allowed to move to another state, not registered as a sex offender there, and able to commit the same crime again?
According to Crittenden County (AR) officials, Bishop didn’t notify the county that he was a sex offender. (Gee, he didn’t obey the law? Who woulda thunk?) In addition, Bishop was to be evaluated by Arkansas authorities in Pine Bluff, a process delayed from its normal six-month time frame by Alabama officials being slow to send his paperwork. By the time the process was completed, which should have been done in June 2008, and Crittenden County officials found out he was a level four offender, it was March 12, 2009 – one day after he sexually assaulted a cousin. The traditional maxim holds that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but in this case, justice delayed was an injustice perpetrated. (Also, Bishop did not appear on Arkansas’s sex offender website due to what one official called a “glitch in the system,” having to do with getting out-of-state offenders into the system. Now that he’s probably committed a crime in Arkansas, I guess that glitch is taken care of, huh?)
In the case of Bishop, the system failed at every step to do what it’s supposed to: punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Their lapses and glitches and delays, not to mention the original mystery of sentencing that ever let him back out on the streets in the first place, left the people of Crittenden County at great risk for victimization. . .and one of them paid the price for those lapses, glitches, and delays.
But I didn’t come just to point an accusatory finger at the system. See, sometimes the society that created the system fails, too.
Case in point: In Chichester, New Hampshire, residents are upset that a local pastor, David Pinckney, took in Raymond Guay, a convicted child-killer, after his release from prison. Guay served 35 years, which, while some may say is not long enough, is more than the 25 he was originally sentenced to. One might assume that the extra ten years were added for his escape in 1982, during which he kidnapped a couple from Concord, and some time deducted for stabbing another inmate in a federal prison in 1991. Nevertheless, Guay served his time, was released, and placed on parole – which, by a judge’s order, must be served in New Hampshire, and isn’t being forced to stay in New Hampshire just more punishment? (hint: yes)
Problem is, there was nowhere for him to go.
Guay went to a halfway house in Connecticut, but, no doubt finding it every bit as glaringly Causcasian as New Hampshire, was returned to N.H. Without a home, and with no one willing to accept him, Revered Pinckney took him in after conversing with a prison chaplain and talking the matter over with his family. This pissed off the rest of the town of Chichester.
Chichester is a small town, and one of the complaints made at a town meeting was that the small police force is inadequate for dealing with Guay. Given that it’s a small town in New Hampshire, exactly what else do they have to do? Are they so busy with speed traps that they can’t take a few minutes each day to keep an eye on one sixty-year-old man with an ankle bracelet that never leaves the house without adult supervision? The guy’s not gonna steal a tank and go on a rampage here.
It really sounds like Reverend Pinckney does take this whole thing very seriously and is protective of both his family (his wife and four kids are also in the house with Guay) and his community. I admire and commend them for that.
I look at it this way: if he doesn’t get a place to stay somewhere, then Guay will be homeless. While he’s with the Pinckneys, we know where he is and if anything comes up odd or suspicious, he can be traced and questioned. If he wasn’t with them, he might well be homeless, and then there’s no way to know where he is and what he’s doing. Is that somehow preferable to the people of Chichester? Speaking for myself here, I’d rather know where he is so I can keep tabs on him than have to sleep knowing he’s got no ties, no roots, nowhere to call home, and absolutely nothing to lose by committing another crime. Sure, one might argue, he would lose his freedom if he violates his parole, but if he’s homeless, all he’s losing is the chance to sleep on a park bench, while gaining a roof over his head and food. That assumes he would get caught, and it’s harder to catch homeless people.
Basically, my point is that he’s better off in a house with people that are watching him and a roof over his head, and the community is safer with hm having roots and a home, i.e., something to lose if he gets tempted to commit another offense. See, I find some comfort in safety in knowing where the criminals are. I worry about the ones that haven’t been caught. . .especially the sex offenders. From the many experiences related to me by friends, I know that the majority go unpunished – or commit more crimes than they’re eventually arrested and convicted of.
Between prison and society, though, are the courts. And jurors are too busy using internet-capable cell phones to twitter and research cases to do their jobs properly.
One man not punished enough, one man punished too much, and juries of people who’ll ruin months of investigation and preparation to go look at LOLcats. . .man, our justice system needs work.
VS – 3.18.09