Sunday, October 23, 2005

Forgive and forget?

Last night my husband were watching an episode from the 8th season of the X-Files. Granted, this season is filled with mostly ho-hum episodes, most of which work to establish a relationship between Scully and Doggett. But there is one episode in this season which I think shines for a very simple reason: it deals with an ethical/moral question that most of us don’t even consider.

This episode, entitled Redrum, goes backwards in time and focuses on a prosecutor who is accused of violently murdering his wife. The true murderer, however, is a revenge-seeker – it seems the prosecutor convicted his brother on a “third strike” drug dealing charge by suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him. The prosecutor blithely states “well, he was dealing drugs anyway, right?” and the brother informs him that the boy had cleaned up his act, gotten a good job, and was leading a good life.

Obviously, we can’t ignore the fact that the lawyer has committed an immoral act by suppressing evidence, and to a smaller degree by making the assumption that it would be ok because surely, this two-time convicted drug dealer was still a drug dealer. People who commit crimes can’t change, right?

This is, of course, untrue. People who commit crimes change all the time. Yet there is a propensity amongst law abiding citizens to assume that criminals will forever and always be recidivists. I am guilty of this type of prejudice myself, and I make this mistake without even thinking about it. If I find out someone has committed a criminal act, I will view them differently, judge them. Had I been Athena, Orestes might have been cursed for all time.

All this was prompted by an article I read on yesterday about a newborn baby who was taken from the hospital, and from the parents, because the father had pleaded guilty to rape and sodomy twenty years ago in New York. Children and Youth Services also cited an alleged history of drug abuse by the mother.

I understand the desire and need for the state to protect children. I find it quite necessary, and I am glad to know that in some places the system is keeping track and taking action when they think that a child may be in harm’s way. But this sort of preemptive strike seems a bit unfair. Twenty years is a long time. Not knowing the details of the prior conviction, I can’t be a proper judge of the matter. But it seems like it might have been better for the state to simply monitor the family rather than take the child away from it’s parents.

Realistically, if the state is going to take away a child born to a former sex offender, they should tell that sex offender that should he/she try to have children, the child will be taken away. If they are going to be this firm about it, why doesn’t the state remove the reproductive capabilities of the offender? Of course, the state can’t do either of these things, because it would be unconstitutional. But you would think taking the child away would be just as unconstitutional.

Again, I don't know all the details aside from what was stated in the article. But I hope America starts to be real careful about these types of things, before America stops looking like America.


The SeaWitch said...

Good blog Mel. Thanks for bringint it to my attention. I hadn't heard of the case so I had to read up on it. This is what I found out:

--Father's real name is John Joseph Lentini.
--He pleaded guilty in 1983 to rape and sodomy and spent more than a decade in prison for the crime.
--He claims to be the chief of an unrecognized native Indian tribe.
--He is unemployed
--NY State parole records indicate he sodomized his own daughter
--County lawyers have a doctor's report where the mother admitted using cocaine and meth and working as a prostitute.
--Mother lost custody of her 21 month old baby in a case which questioned the fitness of the father (Daishin).
--She had won a restraining order on Sept. 30 against the state in the efforts to keep them from asking about her pregnancy.

Considering all the above facts, the parents really cannot claim that they were surprised by the county's decision to remove the child. Considering all the stats about the high rates of recidivism in sex offenders, it is no wonder they removed the child. (This is why all convicted sex offenders must get registered upon their release).

The CNN story neglects to give the full story of this case. If they had, neither of the parents could play the 'shocked' role of victims. I applaud the state for putting the safety and welfare of the child ahead of the complaints of the parents. Child Aid workers regularly remove children from the homes where there is a history of abuse and bad parenting. This case is no different. They just did it a lot sooner. Even if only one child has been abused or neglected in a home, all minors in the home will be removed as well.

**I learned more about the facts surrounding the case from ABC, Newsday, and CNN. Statistics and profiles of sex offenders can be found on websites such as US DOJ, Centre for Sex Offender Management as well as a host of independent studies and reports.

traveller one said...

Interesting post! And a great reply from sea Witch!
Blogging is superb brain fuel!

melusina said...

Well, and see the facts you found out SeaWitch bring me back to my point. I thought, when writing this, to delve deeper, but I figured I would find out things about the parents that would make me judge them, and then I wouldn't be able to make my point.

When I first read the article, my immediate reaction was to judge the parents. Looking closer, I wondered why it couldn't be that they might have changed.

Can people change? Can only certain criminals change? (ie. not sex offenders, not serial killers) Can society allow them the benefit of the doubt?

It is a really tough subject for me. I find myself wanting to think yes they can change but deep down thinking they can't.

The SeaWitch said...

People can change. They can turn their lives around. Lazy people become hard workers when they have a family to support. Gang members leave a life of murder and theft to become anti-gang advocates. We see many examples and the reverse is also true where something 'snaps' in people and they leave a law-abiding, productive life to one rife with drugs and violence.

As a society, we allow people the benefit of the doubt...that's why we tolerate relatively lenient prison terms for some offenders. But giving people the benefit of the doubt does not equate with trust or even forgiveness in my opinion. It's the 'once bitten twice shy' mentality we all have. When it comes to sexual offenders and heinous murderers, I don't care if they have the ability to change. I don't care if they've stopped committing criminal acts after their first offence. They threw away their privileges and rights to anything the second they intentionally destroyed someone else's life. I certainly don't give them the benefit of the doubt and I don't forgive them. They can take it up with God, Allah, Budda, Zeus, whichever God of Forgiveness suits them...just not me.