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A Man To Be Executed For “Accidental” Slaying

“Richard Masterson put to death Wednesday for a killing 15 years ago became the busy death penalty state’s first prisoner executed in 2016.Richard Masterson, 43, was pronounced dead at 6:53 p.m., 25 minutes after the lethal injection began.”

Before we give a sweeping statement regarding the case, let us first look closely at the definition of murder. Oxford dictionary defines murder as, “the unlawful killing of another human being without justification or excuse”. Murder is a serious criminal offense; depending upon the circumstances the person who has convicted murder can be sentenced several years in prison, death or prison until death. Accidental killing, however, is “a death caused by the lawful act done under reasonable belief that no harm was likely to result”.

Recently, Richard Masterson, a Texas Man was put to death due to “accidental killing”, as he claims, of Darin Shane Honeycutt fifteen years ago in 2001. Masterson had made many appeals in front of the jurors and U.S Supreme Court, but his last efforts for the rejection of execution were unheard. He was pronounced dead at 6.53pm on Jan 20, 2016. He was executed as soon as the pentobarbital effect took place; first sending his body into deep snoring and then death. His execution was watched by his family and friends from the watch room.

Richard Masterson met Darin Shane Honeycutt in a club from where they went to Honeycutt’s apartment. Honeycutt used to dress put like a woman and was interested in gay sex. Masterson claimed that while they were having sex, Honeycutt had gone unconscious and fell off the bed. Later Masterson realized that Honeycutt is dead. To flee from courts and investigation, he made Honeycutt’s apartment look like it was burglarized. After killing Honeycutt, he ran away with his car and dumped it in Georgia.

The prosecutors claimed that eight days later, Masterson met a guy at the gay club in Tampa. He tried to strangle him to death during gay sex at his apartment. When he lost his consciousness, Masterson stole his wallet and car. The same way he stole Honeycutt’s car.

Masterson’s attorney, George Gardner, argued that he was abused in childhood and had gone through brain damage. Because of the injury done to his personality during the early years of development, he began using drugs and found pleasure in activities which were at times not acceptable to the society.

According to research conducted by National Bureau of Economic Research, child abuse, and maltreatment can increase the probability of engaging in crimes. Even if two twins, one of which is maltreated when other is not, the criminal behavior may tend to appear in the maltreated twin. The more the child is exposed to different types of maltreatment including the sexual abuse, the more likely it is that the child would show criminal behaviors. A maltreated child may exhibit criminal behaviors as juveniles and as adults.

During the trails, Masterson was bizarre and contradictory. He said, “Everyone has to live and die by their own actions.” 

It was later proved that Masterson deliberately tried killing Honeycutt and succeeded in doing so. He also had a criminal record which provided greater evidence of murder and a greater reason for his execution. Malcolm X says, “To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace”. His execution was witnessed by his family and friends, but no one from Honeycutt’s side witnessed it.

“I’m all right with this,” he said. “Sometimes you have to live and die by the choices you make. I made mine, and I’m paying for it.”He said he was being sent “to a better place.” He mouthed a kiss to relatives and friends who were watching the execution. Closed his eyes and was put to death.

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Punitive Attitudes & Racial Typification – The Setting In Trend Of Racially Typifying Individuals In US

America is facing a lot of social issues these days, whether it’s the field of education or employment, the most critical issue is the racial typification and the punitive attitude of the American people towards these racially typified individuals.

 According to Letty Cottin Pogrebin,

 “America is a nation fundamentally ambivalent about its children, often afraid of its children and frequently punitive towards its children.”

 

The word “punitive” refers to inflicting punishment in a very severe or unfair way. Thus, the term “punitive attitude” means to have a punishing, severe or unfair attitude towards someone or something or some matter.

Racial typification, as a term, can be defined as the act of representing or typifying something; some act, attitude or characteristic on the basis of one’s race. It is one of the most critical issues of the American society.

Racial typification is generally used in terms of criminal justice system and the crime typification in the USA. According to a dissertation written by Kelly Welch in 2002, it is believed that the American criminal justice system is the most punitive justice system in the world.

According to her survey and research, the punishing policy adopted by the American criminal justice system is quite brutal. But the sad part is that the public seems to support these policies without any remorse.

In her research, she says that the general public seems to blame the black people for most of the criminal activities; the blacks are being typified as criminals. This typification is caused by a number of factors; media representation of the blacks as criminals on certain crime dramas or serials, punitive attitudes of the general public and their racial prejudice.

She says in her report,

“Findings support the initial hypothesis of this research. Those who typify blacks as criminals are significantly more punitive in their criminal justice policy preferences than those who do not share similar racial perceptions. The relationship appears to be especially relevant for whites, and particularly for whites who are non-Southerners, less racially prejudiced, less concerned about crime, perceive crime to be less violent, and conservative. “

She further explains,

“Results indicate that watching more local television news increases the black typification of crime for minorities, while whites typify crime as a black phenomenon more when they pay closer attention to television crime news. In addition, the present analyses show that media consumption is not indirectly associated with punitive attitudes through the racial typification of crime.”

The fragments of the report, give us an idea about the racial typification of crime and the possible causes behind this phenomenon, but they don’t fully elaborate the theory behind this punitive and biased attitude of the general public.

Racial typification not only affects the lives and future prospects of the community being typified but it also creates opportunities for the extremists to disrupt the peace and harmony of a state.

According to me, one of the most basic reasons behind this punitive attitude and racial typification of crime is racism or racial prejudice.

In order to understand the reason behind the punitive attitude of the people towards criminals or crime suspects and the racial typification of crime, we shall go through another research paper.

The Research was based on the results of an earlier research conducted in the nineties (Roberts and Doob, 1990; Surette, 1998).It focuses on the relationship between media consumption and the attitude of the general public.

Kelly Welch, in her dissertation paper, mentioned that “media consumption is not indirectly associated with punitive attitudes through the racial typification of crime.” This simply means that the relationship between media consumption and the attitude of the general public is direct; the more media consumption of criminological dramas and stories, the more will be the severity of the people towards crime issues.

The report starts with the statement that people get most of the awareness of crime and justice issues from the media. There are specified crime channels where only crime based dramas and series are run. People who watch news on the television or radio or are fond of watching crime and justice dramas are more aware of the dangers of the world. These people are more likely to develop a fear of crime and lead extra careful and cautious lives. The main focus of the paper is the impact of media consumption on one’s:

  • Fear of Crime
  • Punitive Attitude
  • Perception of police effectiveness.

According to the report,

“Employing OLS regression, the results indicate that respondents who are regular viewers of crime drama are more likely to fear crime. However, the relationship is weak. Furthermore, the results indicate that gender, education, income, age, perceived neighborhood problems and police effectiveness are statistically related to fear of crime. In addition, fear of crime, income, marital status, race, and education are statistically related to punitive attitudes. Finally, age, fear of crime, race, and perceived neighborhood problems are statistically related to perceived police effectiveness.”

We all have our unique fears. Some fears are as harmless as a fly while others are the fears about the gravest realities of life.

The research has proved that people who watch news or crime based dramas on a regular basis are more prone to developing a fear of crime.

Crime talks are also quite common in the western world. Crime dramas get more viewer ratings than any other genre. That is why it is believed that most of the awareness about crime issues comes from the media.

“Ignorance is bliss.” So goes the saying. People who don’t watch crime dramas are less likely to develop a cautious attitude towards their surroundings.

Media consumption also affects the public perception of police effectiveness. Generally there are two perceptions about the police. Crime dramas represent the police as honest and sincere officers who spend their entire lives trying to protect their fellow men. While the daily newspapers and broadcasts represent policemen as dishonest and incompetent officials. Although the general attitude of the people is quite positive and they seem satisfied with the police. Yet there are people who are not satisfied with the criminal justice policies.

Similarly, when it comes to racial typification, research shows that crime dramas have typified the black as the criminals. So the general attitude towards the minority has changed. And so the society adopts a punitive attitude towards the typified race.

Another issue with the media consumption is that the crime dramas seem so real and violent, that a person develops a fear of being victimized. Especially, if there is news about a crime in a particular area, the people living that area will take more safety precautions than those living in some other place. These days, people are more afraid of being sexually assaulted, beaten up or murdered especially if they live in an area where such crimes occur on a daily basis. The fear gets so high that people feel dissatisfied with the performance of the police.

If a particular racial or gender group is being victimized by the opposite gender or racial group, the former group will be typified as a victim while the later as a criminal. Thus, the conflicts between the two groups will rise and public will develop a more punitive attitude towards the suspected criminal.

According to this research,

“Police effectiveness, fear of crime and punitive attitudes are important aspects of public attitudes toward crime and justice in the United States. First, police strategies reflect departmental values, which reflect community values. Negative or positive attitudes towards the police may influence police policy making and strategy. Second, citizen attitudes toward the police may influence decisions to report crime. Third, both fear of crime and punitive attitudes may influence policy making and law making by government agencies, as public support or opposition may determine policy.”

The results of the report state a number of factors that determine the punitive attitudes of the people towards crime and justice policy of the United States of America and the public opinion of the effectiveness of the American police. For example, race, income level, gender, education level, location and media consumption etc.

“The results indicate that white, married, and low-income (15k to 30k) respondents are more likely to have punitive attitudes, whereas black, college educated, and respondents with low appraisals of police effectiveness are less likely to have punitive attitudes. The results also indicate that older respondents, males and respondents with low perception of neighborhood problems are more likely to have low fear of crime, whereas, younger respondents, female, Hispanic, college-educated and respondents with low appraisals of police effectiveness are more likely to fear crime. Finally, bivariate results suggest that Hispanic, African-American, urban, and younger respondents are more likely to have negative or low appraisals of police effectiveness. Conversely, respondents with punitive attitudes, with a medium income (30k to 60k), older, white, with low perceptions of neighborhood problems are more likely to have positive or high appraisals of police effectiveness. However, there may be a number of factors that mitigate or enhance the relationships. Thus, it is necessary to conduct multivariate techniques to further address these relationships.”

The report closes with the following conclusion:

“Regular viewers of crime shows are more likely to fear crime. Although statistically significant, the strength of this finding is minimal. In addition, there are a few limitations with regard to the measures of media consumption. First, the type of crime show that the respondent is viewing is unknown. There are numerous types of crime shows that may focus on different aspects of the criminal justice system. For example, crime shows may focus on police, courts, private investigators, defense lawyers and sometimes even the criminals. In addition, some shows are more realistic, while others routinely portray violence, and consistently misinform viewers about the nature of the criminal justice system and criminality. It would be prudent to know which dramas the respondents are viewing. Second, employing television hours watched is problematic, since there is no way of determining what type of programs the respondent is viewing. There are a number of different programs that may or may not address criminal justice issues and address them in substantially different ways. Finally, examining newspapers as the primary source of crime news suggests that only newspapers influence respondents. It would be naive to suggest that respondents are not affected by a number of sources; for example, respondents who receive their primary crime news from newspapers may also be affected by presentations of crime from other sources such as films, television and/or personal experiences.”

Conclusion:

What I understand from the above-mentioned reports is that punitive attitudes and racial typification rise from our fears of crime and victimization and our dissatisfaction with the justice policy. We need to understand that the acts of a person cannot be used to define his entire nation. Just as there are good white people, so are there bad ones too. Same is the case with other racial groups. Virtue cannot be attributed to a single class of people. The crime dramas represent the criminals as insensitive and monstrous people who get pleasure in hurting and killing others. That’s why people develop a feeling of fear and hostility towards the criminals or crime suspects. This fear and hostility is the main reason behind the punitive attitudes of the general public. We should remember that crime needs to be eradicated, not the criminals.

The most basic cause of these attitudes is racism. If there is no racism, there will be no fears of being victimized by the opposite racial groups. We should erase the concept of racism from our minds. The need of the hour is to define each other not on the basis of race or gender but on the basis of humanity.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr,

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

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Prisons Being A Punishment Rather Than A Place For Punishment

“My mind is free to go where it wants. But my body… has to remain within a 50 mile radius within the area I’m paroled at”, these are the words one ex-prisoner used to describe his feeling after release from prison. Society perceives prison as punishment instead of a place for punishment. This is a judgment in itself. When a person has spent time in prison, the law might vindicate him of the crime eventually but the re-adjustment issues which are to be faced at the hands of society and family do not let the person feel like a free man for a long time. On top of that, the strict parole conditions and mental effort it requires to re-start their lives from where they left, leaves many men incapable of going out of their house to avoid being sent back to prison.

 

Recidivism, which means a person’s inclination to slip back into criminal behavior which eventually results in that person being sent back to prison even after receiving intervention or undergoing correctional measures previous crimes, is said to be a direct result of the prison climate. Prison climate means the various characteristics of a correctional institute as they are perceived by the inmates of the prison. These include social interactions, emotional health while completing a prison sentence, administrative and organizational accessibility and physical health of the inmates. Prison climate is more commonly referred to as ‘prison environment’. Research shows that 1 out of every 5 men return to prison within a year of being released. 70% of these men are sent back due to violation of their parole supervision.

Research indicates that a prison with a ‘bad’ environment is frequently subjected to riots and instability. The inmates feel insecure and unheard. The staff feels overworked and underpaid. Everyone is dissatisfied. There are three most important factors which are necessary for a healthy climate at a facility. These are stability at the bureaucratic level, the dissatisfaction level of the correctional staff and the social environment of the place. Frequently, cases of physical violence are reported at prisons. These are due to a number of reasons which include the lack of privacy or having your personal space intruded by others, mental and physical monotony and sense of uselessness and the sense of being under someone else’s control. These factors visibly affect the social and cognitive environment of the whole place.

A number of evidences show that women experiences differ from men in US prisons. It is due to the fact that their relationship both inside and outside of prison matters in shaping the culture in women’s prisons. Even though men make up the majority of prisons in the US, the annual incarceration for women increased at a rate of 7.5%in 2004 as compared to 5.7% for men. Based on these figures, different studies show that men and women tend to cope differently when it came to form family structures within the prison and differed from the roles they would normally adopt in the society where men tend to isolate themselves from others and showed more aggression towards the other inmates. Another important issue that surfaces in many prisons is the child care and women worry about it when they are incarcerated. According to the statistics, 64% of women were primary guardians for their children prior to being incarcerated. It is quite likely that the life of male children is based on many traumatic events as they grow up in the prisons, but research has shown that female children experienced a higher rate of trauma.

To some extent gender imbalanced prison cells affected the overall climate of the prison in the US. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, nearly one third of women prisoners are confined in US prison cells which account to almost 8.8% of the total US prison population. Another astonishing aspect is that this trend is on the rise. It all began in 1870s when the authorities in US started housing women in separate facilities. But it came up with one problematic feature as male staff used to operate these cells and they often tried to engage with women in immoral acts.  But with the passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, a policy shift occurred and as a result females started replacing the male employees and as of 2007 males now serve at restricted positions such as prison guards and make 40% of total post.

However, both the positive and negative experiences of both the male and female inmates matter and help shape the overall climate of that particular prison. What matters to both genders is the respect shown towards them, humanitarian principles being practiced, staff-prisoner relationships, degree of support provided to the prisoners, level of mutual trust, degree of fairness, overall maintenance of law and order, maintaining an appropriate prisoner safety level, well-being opportunities provided for personal development, amount of family contact, use or abuse of power, meaning attached to the penal experience and decency shown to prisoners. Some other measures included the quality of physical environment, different staff services and programs, and personal safety and security. Healthy prison indicators are based on whether prisoners feel safe, are treated with respect are able to and assisted in maintaining meaningful contact with their families. Overall the issue of reliability and validity are of particular importance.

For now the overcrowded prison populations continue to be one of the greatest challenges faced by the US prison system. Not only more strict crime policies and determinate sentencing profoundly increased the numbers of various criminals in prisons and generated extended prison sentences, but overall raised the annual prison population. This overpopulation and heavily relying on system has overburdened the state and has lately resulted into fast depletion of resources. Ultimately weakening the ability to seek to achieve rehabilitation and accomplishing only incapacitation rather greater benefits. Therefore, in order to counter this situation, state took aggressive measures and as a result the prison system in US has evolved a lot till now since its inception in the 16th century. Now most of the prisons in US are being designed, financed, built and operated by private companies. On one hand they take the operational burden off from the government and are more innovative but on the other handsome experts believe them to be flawed both in principle and in practice.

What can be concluded is that the social climate of a prison can influence rehabilitative outcomes. It is, therefore, recommended that the social climate of US prisons is regularly audited such that the changes over time are assessed, standards for improvement are set and targets are achieved. So much so that the need for additional resources or interventions is identified and responded to properly.

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Juvenile Offenders – Focusing On Lack of Education and Cache of Bad Company as Root Cause of Problem

 Juvenile offenders also referred to as juvenile delinquents are young people below the age of 18 who are arrested for various crimes or offenses ranging from theft and vandalism to rape and murder. This is a very unstable world and times we are living in today. There is conflict, security threats, uncertainty and neglect of humanity everywhere. Children who grow up in this chaotic world, undergo the transition from childhood to adulthood tending to become increasingly violent and exhibit delinquent behavior. In the United States, children who show delinquent behavior are punished in a Youth Detention Center.

There may be many causes of delinquency among young children and adolescents. Among these primarily is the fact that opportunities for employment and education are not evenly distributed for all. Other reasons include children who fall into bad company and develop a drug abuse problem, broken families or parentless children, sexual abuse, cruelty and parents who have an alcohol abuse problem. Sometimes neglect manifests itself in rebellious behavior in children. For example children whose parents work long hours or are preoccupied with other family members tend to commit crimes after their school hours. The friendships a child develops inside or outside the school also play a significant role in their behavior. It can have a direct impact on them navigating successfully through to adulthood and becoming a college graduate or developing a substance abuse problem and eventually dropping out of school.

It has been observed that 15-20% young people exhibit delinquent behavior due to mental illness. If we use a broader definition, this figure goes up to 90%! In The United States, demographics shows that the number of juvenile offenders is rising every year. For example, in 2007, there were approximately 72 million young offenders. This figure rose up to 75 million in the year 2013. This rate is forecasted to keep on increasing till the year 2015 at minimum. The Federal Interagency of Child and Family Statistics have predicted that by the year 2050, the population of delinquents might go up to approximately 102 million! The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also reported in the year 2009 that out of all juvenile offenders in The United States, 57% were White, 10% were black, 1% American Indian, 5% were Asian, and 22% of them belonged to the Hispanic community.

Since many children who are arrested for delinquent behavior have suffered psychological or physical abuse, they have learning disabilities, anger issues and fall behind in their studies. As a result, these children, who are already lagging in their education, have to sit through the deplorable outdated Education system of the Detention Centers. This results in them not being able to make a successful transition out and gives rise to recidivism. Research has shown a clear link between education and juvenile delinquency. Statistics shows us that if we compare academic performances of students and the probability of their turning into an offender, then 35% children who perform badly in studies are bound to become offenders compared to 20% children who have a good academic record.

Similarly, a study carried out by the Criminal Justice Policy Council reported the findings that 37% of the children and adolescents who had been held for crimes were less likely to return to prison if they only learned to read during their time in a Juvenile Correction Center.About 2600 juvenile justice facilities report that they provide classes and basic education services for the offenders. However, in many of these centers, the educational programs are low grade and insufficient for the juvenile delinquents. For starters, there is lack of timely and correct analysis and assessment of the needs students have when they enter the system. Research showed that about 16% students only have the basic reading and writing skills of a fourth-grade student. There is little or no coordination among different age groups of students or different skills level students and their learning potential with the teacher’s lessons. Quite a few of the teaching methods are antiquated, inappropriate, use outdated material and little or no technology is used. There is an overall dearth of resources.

Every morning the sun rises over these juvenile justice centers, there are about 70,000 students who come to take classes and learn. Almost 85 percent of these students are males. There may be a number of reasons for that. Males are generally more exposed to society and have a higher tendency to be aggressive. Almost 70% of those people turn out to be African American or Hispanic. However, due to poor teaching quality, these systems only do more harm than good and at the end, only 25% students have a progress good enough to enable them to enter a public school and manage to keep up with peers.

Federal reports show that out of all the students in juvenile justice facilities, only 15% improved their reading skills while in custody. Out of the long term students, only 26% improved their reading and writing skills. Only 2% are accepted into a program at any college. Almost 70% people who are tested are found to have some sort of learning disability. Lesser than 25% have received special guidance or services for their disability. The other 45% have not been catered to.  The irony in all this is that Justice Systems are more expensive to maintain than keeping teenagers in a normal school where they not only receive quality education, they also have more chances of progression and avoid mental problems that come along with living in incarceration.

The best way of preventing juvenile delinquency is to keep a strict watch and correct the problem at root level. Causes of crimes among teenagers need to be looked into and analyzed. Some of these causes like improving the home environment or lessening poverty are hard to eliminate but others like lack of education and falling into bad company can easily be rectified. After all, it is important to remember that these are still children, and they deserve all the perks that come with childhood. Every child deserves a happy home, security, ample opportunity for growth and progress. By providing affordable quality education, children can be saved from ruining their future.