As if the Jaycee Dugard tale wasn’t awful enough all on its own, the NYT reports this morning that the timing of the revelation of this 18-year-long kidnapping could derail a California bill designed to address prison overcrowding. The legislation would parole some offenders early. But only those who committed nonviolent, low-level crimes, and no sex offenders. Phillip Garrido, Dugard’s kidnapper, was convicted of rape and released 11 years into a 50-years-to-life sentence in an entirely different era. This bill has nothing to do with him or predators like him. Still, the California Senate is voting today, and some legislators are spooked. This is as predictable as it is depressing: All too often, stories of rare but incredibly horrific crimes translate into misguided policy. In trying to protect the vulnerable, especially children, we lose sight of the costs of reacting irrationally. In this case, that cost involves California’s crippling $1.2 billion budget deficit and the injustices inherent in a prison system swamped with almost twice the inmates it was designed to hold. Conditions are so bad that a panel of federal judges has ordered the state to reduce the prison population by 40,000 inmates over the next two years. This bill was a first step. Will the state senate be brave enough to pass it?
Meanwhile, if you’re trying to understand how Garrido’s parole supervisors could possibly have missed the backyard compound that held Dugard and her two children, here’s an explanation from law professor Jonathan Simon on PrawfsBlawg :
Why did the parole agents fails to aggressively search Garrido’s compound even though he was a serial rapist and kidnapper who told neighbors that he was a sex addict? Because on a daily basis he did not appear to be deviant. Against the background of a system that associates unemployment, homelessness, and drug addiction with crime, Garrido was a screaming success story. He lived with his wife in a home he owned. He worked at this own business (Phil the printer). He was a man of religion. He apparently did not use illegal drugs, or engage in street level gang antics. Like Charles Manson or Ted Bundy, Garrido did not fit a threat profile directed historically at the urban poor and minorities, so he went undisturbed while he commited unspeakable crimes agains the most vulnerable imaginable victims.
Photograph of a California prison by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images.