September 20, 2014
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My take on the news
Legislators need to stiffen parole rules
Lonnie Barham

PAROLE BOARDS LUNACY:  The Rhode Island Parole Board finally concluded its march toward totally dysfunctional stupidity Monday when it voted unanimously to parole Alfred Brissette, Jr. who has served only 13 of the 35 years of his sentence for the 1999 murder of a Rhode Island woman he had randomly selected to kill and bury simply for the “thrill of it.”  The board’s decision is just unfathomable! Many convicted of far lesser crimes are routinely imprisoned longer than Brissette. 

There are four generally accepted reasons for punishing those convicted of serious crimes: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation.  In this case, the parole board apparently considered only one piece of the whole – rehabilitation; and it's certainly questionable whether Brissette has been “rehabilitated” since it's easy to appear so when stuck between prison walls without outside temptations. The board’s rash decision means Brissette will no longer be “incapacitated” from committing future heinous acts; his early and unjust freedom overrules “deterrence” since other criminals still on the street will think they have virtually a free pass to kill; and, our society has been deprived of “retribution,” that pound of flesh our collective psyche deserves after suffering through the abhorrent details of Brissette’s random and brutal thrill killing of an innocent victim.

Our General Assembly must act to stiffen our lax parole rules, while Governor Chafee should demand the entire parole board resign in the aftermath of this unparalleled insult to the citizens of Rhode Island.           

MANDATORY TREATMENT FOR ALCOHOLICS?  The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has proposed a program that will result in some alcoholics being forced into alcoholism treatment in a locked institution against their will.  The agency’s chief of staff, Michael Varadian, says Rhode Island should create a treatment program that calls for an "outreach team" to canvass the streets looking for alcoholics, corral them, and force them into confinement for treatment.  It wouldn't require the alcoholic to have committed a crime; there would be no police involved; there would be no court or judges involved in the forced incarceration - just the "outreach team" deciding who is an alcoholic and which of them require forced treatment.  Does this sound Orwellian to anyone?  Of course, we have some citizens who have alcohol problems they refuse to treat.  But should we violate constitutional due process rights and force them into treatment when they have committed no crime?  Will the next step have these outreach teams coming into our homes looking for alcoholics?  Should we then expand this program to force obese people into locked-down treatment facilities?  Or, should we perhaps round up gamblers at Twin River and incarcerate them in gambling rehabilitation facilities?  Beware! It's a slippery slope when government begins stepping on constitutional rights.  As advocates for personal freedoms frequently say, “1984 was supposed to be a novel, not a blueprint for action.”        

ZOMBIES NOW EQUAL ZOMBIES LATER:  Dressed as zombies, several teenagers marched on the R.I. Department of Education last week protesting the requirement that high school seniors test at least partially proficient on standardized tests in order to receive high school graduation diplomas as of 2014.  The students complained that because they have not received a high quality education, they would not be able to test even partially proficient on the NECAP tests.  Without diplomas, they contended, they would end up in dead-end jobs - thus the zombie make-up.  

This is just another example of individuals refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Good teachers and good schools are important to a child's education; good parents and a stable home life are even more important.  However, most students are responsible for their own failures.  They are the ones who didn't listen in class.  They are the ones who failed to complete homework.  They are the ones who chose to spend their time with video games and hanging out at the mall instead of concentrating on learning.  The majority of seniors in Rhode Island do score proficient on the NECAP.  If they can do it, these "zombies" can also do it.  The bottom line:  if students want to be zombies through high school and play dead about taking responsibility for their learning, they will certainly be zombies later in life when their lack of self-motivated learning leads to the dead-end jobs they talked about during their march.

NO MORE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PERSONAL ACTIONS:  The General Assembly is considering two bills that would codify into law our state's apparent intent to relieve everyone of the obligation to take responsibility for their actions.  One bill would prevent employers from asking applicants about their criminal arrest records.  The other would allow up to five criminal convictions to be erased from an individual's record.  

What's our society coming to?  Students are told they don't have to take responsibility for any of their learning and that they will be given a diploma simply for sitting through 12 years of instruction they didn't listen to.  Teachers don’t want to take responsibility for their performance and want to be retained and given raises without even minimally adequate evaluations.  Our neighbors are told they no longer have to be held accountable for their criminal acts; indeed, their neighbors won't even know about those crimes because they will be erased.  Job applicants are told they don't have to take any responsibility for committing multiple crimes; their employers can't even ask about them. 

We can snicker at the "good old days" of personal responsibility portrayed by the likes of Andy Griffith and June Cleaver and say they didn't depict American life as it really was; that racial discrimination, gender inequality and unaddressed poverty were hidden from view.  That's true.  But somewhere along the way as we cleansed society of some of its insidious evils, we also removed almost all obligations for individuals to take responsibility for their actions.  Now, it's always someone else's fault; never my own.  

Perhaps in another generation or two the pendulum will swing back to the middle and we will have both an egalitarian society and one that has regained its sense of personal responsibility.  In the meantime, watch out!  It's a dangerous place where no one has to take responsibility for their actions.    

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  Larry Berman, spokesman for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, explaining that even though each General Assembly chamber has passed many bills and sent them to the other chamber, only one substantive bill has passed both chambers to become law after seven weeks of legislative work:   "The two chambers passing the same bill is not a litmus test for progress.”  If that's the case, then what is the litmus test for progress?  Is it progress when a major bill like the same-sex marriage bill is passed by one chamber but is allowed to lie dormant in the other?  While many of us would prefer the two chambers do nothing and pass no bills since legislative action usually only makes things worse for Rhode Islanders, the House and Senate's mission is to consider how the two chambers might improve the lives of our citizens and by both chambers passing relevant laws to implement change.  Isn't whether or not the two chambers both act on a bill the only way to measure progress toward that mission's end? 

(QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  From an Internet flyer depicting a character from the animated TV show South Park holding a semi-automatic rifle that anti-gun forces have dubbed an "assault rifle".  The quote: "But if I use it to stop someone from assaulting me, isn't it an anti-assault rifle? ")


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