16 May 2005

Contain or Kill

A long time ago, I quit watching CBS's "Sixty Minutes." Every week the show would report one or more carefully chosen outrages to get its audience's blood boiling. I decided that I did not need to exercise my "fight or flight" reaction that regularly. Well, this weekend, I screwed up, watched the show, and there it was: an expose on the northern California prison gang, "Nuestra Familia." Our Family, as it is called in English, has its leadership based in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison's Secure Housing Unit (SHU), and is in the drug-trafficking and murder business. Now, I am normally against the death penalty, and have proposed legislation to substitute social isolation for execution.

But the example of Nuestra Familia shows makes me think I have been too naive. I now think that if a convict commits a capital crime in prison, or engages in a conspiracy to do so, then that convict should be subject to total isolation. By that I mean no contact with other inmates and no visitors (other than his or her attorney), ever. Further, the convict should not be allowed to send anything to anyone anywhere — no messages, no postcards, nothing. Any materials that go into the cell must be destroyed when they come out. That should be sufficient to restrain the convict from committing further capital crimes or engaging in conspiracies to commit them. But if that is not enough, then maybe execution is the only alternative.

On the other hand, the proposal California's Governator is considering is this: disperse the "Generals" of Nuestra Familia from Pelican Bay to other states. The idea is that the miles of isolation from each other will "break up" the gang. The reality is that the gang will nucleate new gangs in other states.

No, I think we should keep Nuestra Familia in Northern California and deal with it there. It's criminally stupid to send their leaders off to teach their tradecraft nationwide.

No comments: