Friday, March 15, 2013

Does prison make it impossible for a criminal to be rehabilitated?

AmLaw Daily has the story of how Scott Saks, a partner in the corporate department of the Paul Hastings law firm, opposes the parole of Terry Losicco.  Mr. Saks lives in the house where Mr. Losicco brutally murdered a woman in 1980.  Mr. Losicco was 16 at the time.  Mr. Saks did not know of the murder when he bought the house from a subsequent owner but says he still would have bought the house if had known.  This post is not about the coincidence that Mr. Saks bought a house where a murder took place.  It is about Mr. Saks's reason for opposing parole.

Ask yourself if the reason that Mr. Saks opposes Mr. Losicco's parole makes sense to you.  Here is a quote from the story:
'If someone has been in prison since they were 16 and are now 50 the chances of him being rehabilitated are zero,' Saks said. 'He has spent two-thirds of his life doing hard time.'
You might think that since too much time in prison makes a person incapable of rehabilitation, then it necessarily follows that prisoners should get frequent parole hearings so that they are not in prison so long that they can't be rehabilitated.  Mr. Saks is here to tell you that people who think that are wrong.  New York law lets Mr. Losicco get a parole hearing every two years since his 25th year in prison.  According to Mr. Saks, having a parole hearing every 24 months inflicts a "continuous crime" by the State of New York against the survivors of crime and the community in which the crime occurred.  Put another way, New York is inflicting a crime on Mr. Saks (who is a member of the community where the murder took place) not by releasing Mr. Loscicco but by simply having a hearing to determine whether Mr. Loscicco should be released.

In an effort to stop this "continuous crime" from being continuous.  Mr. Saks wants prisoners to get parole hearings every five years instead of two.  I guess this is because long prison sentences have the effect of not rehabilitating prisoners so making it harder for prisoners to get parole hearings will make it less likely that anyone is actually rehabilitated.  Or something like that.  Because politicians love to be seen as being tough a crime a bill to change the period from two years to five years has been introduced to the New York Senate.

I do not have an opinion on whether Ms. Losicco (who the article says has been a model prisoner) has been rehabilitated and is worthy of parole.  And I don't have an issue with those who say the nature of his crime—which was truly awful—dictates that Mr. Losicco stay in prison longer or even for the rest of his life.  But very few people are the same when they are 50 as when they are 16.  If long prison sentences are not rehabilitating people, that strikes me as an argument that long prison sentences are not working rather than an argument for keeping people in prison longer. 

What do you think Mr. Torvik?  Should teenagers sentenced to long prison sentences be required to remain in prison until death because prison cannot rehabilitate them?  What goal is our society trying to accomplish when we sentence teenagers to prison for long periods of time?


  1. Interesting.

    Mr. Saks's connection to this case is a little odd. I guess it's the "Poltergeist" theory of victimhood. Or maybe "Amityville Horror." It runs with the land.

    But, assuming he's a legitimate "victim," I actually have some sympathy for him. There is a sense in which these parole hearings, where everything gets dredged up again, do rip the scars off old wounds. And every two years is often enough, at this point, that they might never heal. But there's an obvious tension in criminal justice between the rights of criminals and the rights of victims. Ultimately we have to decide what's best for society, and that's a tough question.

    I don't know too much about criminal law, obviously. But I prefer the federal system, where you get a sentence and serve it, with just the possibility of credit for good behavior. (I believe you can get up to a 1/6 reduction in your sentence if you're a good boy.) There is no parole for federal crimes, probably partly because of the harm that parole hearings inflict.

    I do believe that, in general, our criminal sentences are far too long to do any good. But it is very difficult to figure out what to do with a 16-year old that rapes and kills an elderly couple. The answer, probably, is that there is no good solution. Whatever choice we make will have really serious downsides.

    1. Dear Mr. Torvik, I never claimed to be a victim and no there are no poltergeists in my home. Quite simply, I got involved for one simple reason. Common Sense. Apparently, as I have learned, that is the one thing that seems to be missing from the discussion about prisonor rights. In my view, and I would argue it is a view that is shared by the silent majority, when you commit a crime, particularly one as heinous, vicious, depraved and violent as the one that Convict Losicco committed, you do in fact lose certain rights and privileges that law abiding citizens enjoy.

      Unfortunately, the misguided prisonor rights cheerleaders have hijacked this discussion for far too long in my view. My statement about the fact that Convict Losicco is no longer rehabilitable after spending so many years in prison is, but one, of the many reasons he should never be granted parole. The first and foremost reason is the following: Regardless of whether Losicco were a “model” prisoner, which I would argue should not be relevant in this case, due to the horrific, aggravated, depraved and viscous nature of his crimes, to release him on parole, now or ever, would deprecate the seriousness of the offense and would be a crime to the Prouty family and the citizens of New York.

      Furthermore, one can debate the impact of the prison system on inmates, but the fact that it is so failed, should not call for shorter sentences, but rather for longer sentences in which the guilty can never be released to cause further harm. As Judge Ingrassia put it in his sentencing, the foremost purpose of a a prison sentence is to provide security to the community and to be punative. Rehabilitation is a plus, if it can be achieved, but is not the prioty, and rehabilitation should be something that is achieved behind bars, where an inmate cannot hurt a law abiding citizen. While one can argue that our disfunctional prison system harms convicted criminals further and should be changed, the fact is that prisoners are not the victims here, and one should not lose site of that fact. While it might be a noble cause to reform our prison system, the fact is that it is more important to protect the citizens, and not make victims out of convicted killers. Rather than argue for shorter prison sentences, I would argue for longer ones without the possibility for parole as should be the case here.

      While the State of NY may have been a cause of Inmate Losicco's evil, that does not take away from the victims and the citizens of NY's rights to live peacefully and without fear that he will commit another crime, and in my view, that is the number one priority, not Inmate Losicco's rights.

      Finally, I think it is very telling to consider the Westchester County DA's position on this case and will end with that. That is the following: "Evil is not a word usually associated with the criminal justice system. We refrain from termind defendants evil because such moral judgments are considered beyond the scope of crimilal law. In over 21 years of presecution, I have seen terrible acts committed. But I cannot think of any crime more vicious, more egregious, or more abhorrent than the crimes committed by this defendent on May 25, 1980. In my assessment, only the word evil fully describes this defendant's actions."

      I agree with that statement.

      While I debated responding to your article and comment as I did not view it as sufficiently worthy of a response, I do value the rights granted under the Constitution of free speach and the right to disagree. I ulitmately decided to respond for one reason. I believe that you are wrong in your views and I believe that the silent majority would agree with that statement and wanted to give them a voice.

      Scott R. Saks


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