Prison Breakage Includes Self-Deception about Dangerous Criminals
The daring and ingenious escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in New York State has become a major national news saga. There are several points of interest: the evocation of a familiar movie, The Shawshank Redemption; the possibility that one of the escaped prisoners exerted his manly charms on a prison employee; the boneheaded remarks of the Empire State’s own Caligula, Andrew Cuomo.
I regret that I have no intention of addressing these juicy features of the story.
Rather, I want to concentrate on how the prison break disproves an assumption behind the familiar left-wing assertion that the Catholic Church “opposes capital punishment.”
This assertion is not, of course, true — and couldn’t be true. It is well known that the major theological authorities, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas, maintain the liceity of capital punishment. And, contrary to what many would wish, the Church cannot change her established doctrines.
However, it is true that recent popes, and recent church documents exercising genuine authority, have advocated the abolition of the death penalty — on the grounds that modern penal methods render it unnecessary.
The idea is that the death penalty, though licit, should only be used when it is needed to defend society from the criminal, and that our advanced prison systems defend society to a level never before seen in the history of our sorrowful earth. This development of Catholic teaching is well presented, and even defended, by Christopher Kaczor — who has a brain and does not equate capital punishment with other life issues, such as infanticide and induced abortion.
And to this carefully-nuanced argument I say: Nonsense!
The recent prison break makes it clear that our penal system does not provide reliable protection from violent criminals.
Let’s understand what the two escapees did. Richard Matt killed and dismembered his former boss, William Rickerson. He then skedaddled to Mexico, where he killed another man outside a cantina. He was extradited to the U.S. and received a sentence of 25 years to life.
David Sweat shot and killed a deputy sheriff. No dismemberment is reported. Nonetheless, his sentence was actually heavier than that of dismemberment enthusiast Richard Matt. Sweat was serving life without parole.
They’re on the loose, folks. And people in general are, well, scared. Out in the wide world, Mr. Matt might dismember somebody else. And Mr. Sweat might at least shoot somebody. Papal assurances of a safe society are ringing a little hollow.
Here’s the real point. These assurances were always a little hollow. The escape of these two dangerous felons only spreads the inherent peril around to where we can see it. If they hadn’t escaped, they would still be a threat to other prisoners, to prison guards, and to other prison personnel. Aren’t prisoners, prison guards, and prison personnel human beings? Aren’t they members of society? Don’t they deserve to be defended?
Please note: I am not here insisting on the death penalty for Richard Matt and David Sweat. You hear that, guys? I am your pal. Hey, I have myself been an inmate. I have played chess with accused bank robbers and murderers. (Well, I think the charge on that guy was actually manslaughter.) Those guys played pretty good chess. I enjoyed our games….
Maybe we should abolish the death penalty because it interferes with my chess schedule.
It’s as good a reason as any offered so far.