"Punishment for murder in the United States increasingly resembles a reactor more than a radiator, Prof. Jonathan Simon at Boalt Hall, University of California-Berkeley School of Law, said in a lecture at Marquette University Law School Monday. And like a reactor, the trends in murder sentences are building up heat that presents increasing challenges...
But in more recent times, Simon said, the severity of sentences has increased, differentiation in sentences has been reduced, and more murderers are being given sentences such as life without parole. The difference in actual sentences between second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in California in recent years has been relatively slight, Simon said. And public sentiment that parole boards are letting out people who should still be in prison has made parole less frequent. Simon used the title of a best-seller by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to describe the state of murder punishment: “Hot, flat, and crowded.”
In his home state of California, he said, 10 percent of the state budget is spent on prisons. He said the number of inmates who will die of health problems as they age is rising and care for them is already becoming a major financial drain. He said many of them are in prison long after the point at which they are a threat to others. If they were out of prison, Medicare or Medicaid would pay for their care at a much lower cost than in prison, where the Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage, Simon said. While some states continue to debate whether sentences have become excessive, California is past that debate, he said.
Simon called sentences of life without parole “degrading.” He said wide use of such sentences creates nightmares for prison managers who must create “super-max” conditions to deal with inmates with little incentive to comply with rules."
Excerpts from:January 25, 2011 | Posted by: Alan J. Borsuk
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Murder Sentences Becoming “Too Flat and Too Severe,” Barrock Lecturer Says