A reader writes:
As a criminal justice based victim advocate, I’d also like to point out that most victims of crime would NOT be open to the idea of the offender being released early for any reason. They routinely protest parole and are angered by things like “good time” equating to early release. Often the impact of the offender’s action reverberates in the victim’s life well beyond the time the offender serves. And often the only sense of vindication they feel is knowing that the person who hurt them will not only not be able to hurt anyone else, but will not be free to enjoy their golden years’.
How many more young people would commit murders if they didn't have to contemplate growing old in prison?
If the number is one, then it is worth keeping murderers imprisoned into old age. Given that we can never know, we must go with the assumption that it is at least one. Jamelle Bouie apparently takes the position that the only goal of incarceration is preventing a particular individual from committing another crime, but punishment has always had multiple goals, including, of course, general deterrence.
I believe that one other issue with this proposal is that it would undermine efforts to end the death penalty. Many states instituted life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty to satisfy the public's concerns. If states were to begin releasing these murderers, they would be breaking a bargain that they made with their citizens in which life without parole was substituted for the death penalty. Releasing the murderers would prove cynics and death penalty proponents correct and would reinvigorate the pro-death penalty movement.
Also, one of your correspondents gratuitously blamed Reagan for deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. In the United States, deinstitutionalization began in the 1950s and was largely completed before Reagan was president. And, if the writer was referring to Reagan's time as governor of California, I would point out that it also occurred under the governors of the other 49 states as well. I know that in New York, where I am from, the deinstitutionalization movement was often associated with Governor Rockefeller. But it was national phenomenon. It was a reaction to the development of new medications, and was promoted by policies of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Wikipedia has a useful summary.