Brenda Spencer would become known as America’s first school shooter. The phrase ‘I don’t like Mondays’ was her response when asked why she did it.

Absolutely, there are many cases where the risk is almost 0 — the same as with an average person in the community.

I’m an impartial observer of the criminal justice system, yes: I’m a court reporter, so I jot down word for word what is said at every trial that comes across my desk. I have heard lots of expert testimony about recidivism rates, risk factors, and the kinds of treatment that are shown to best work. And I’ve heard a wide array of offenders at different stages in their progress, if any.

I also worked exclusively on life sentence parole hearings in California and it’s really not hard to gauge the credibility of reformed inmates who have spent decades in prison vs. those who have not made progress. Same thing with sex offenders. Some violence is the result of tremendous immaturity and trauma that can be overcome with time and proper treatment.

In most cases, violence doesn’t come out of nowhere, and so you can define what treatment model suits the needs of that person. After treatment, many of the lifer inmates have far more insight and self control than the average person. In fact, they’re often more mature than the commissioners sealing their fate. But the reality is that of those who are rehabilitated, very few will be given a second chance.

So, yeah, it is sad when you hear an old man, for example, who is wise and kind and can behave better under tremendous pressure than most free people, and that person gets told, “Sorry. Try again in 7 years. Next case, please.” Board of Probation commissioners are often challenged for indiscriminately saying no to everyone without taking a careful look at the individual case at hand. But we know that it’s unlawful to base those decisions on past criminal behavior alone.


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