Zeitgeist of the Heart – Sentencing and Rehabilitation

By now many of you have heard about the ruckus involving a Standford student convicted of raping an unconscious woman.  The judge issued a fairly lenient sentence (as lenient as any sentence can be when one is required to register as a sex offender) and many are calling for both his head and the rapist’s head.  The reasoning for the “light” sentence is that the convicted had no prior criminal record and was deemed to be with good chances of rehabilitation in prison.  This logic combined with the outcry of many circles is what interests me.  If prison is intended to be a tool of rehabilitation, then the system must be celebrated when it is successful.  This would dictate that sentences be made proportional to the odds of successful conversion from criminal behavior to prosocial behavior.  However, we are left in a world of bloodlust as the very people that decry the prison system are outraged that its power was not used in complete force with respect to the convicted.  After all, it’s okay to empathize with the disadvantaged that wind up in the system, but for those in which it is agreeable to pile on crucifixion, it must be done so with great gusto.

Part of the joy in writing for me is exposing the hypocrisy under which many operate.  The same people that propagate concerns of a capitalist-prison system are the ones crying out for punishments that would never satisfy them in this particular instance.  Their empathy is directed in contradictory fashion, singling out those in their “in-group” for reduced sentences and demanding increasingly destructive forms of punishment for those in their “out-group.”  I am not justifying the actions of the convicted, far from it.  What I am pointing out is that those – in general – that are calling for blood are the very same people that view prison as a tool for rehabilitation rather than punishment.  They champion the use of prisons as an ultimately tool for possible rehabilitation rather than as punitive tools that exist solely to inflict more pain.  However, this all goes to hell when they are presented with someone that is deemed to be universally reviled or otherwise in everyone’s out-group.

You cannot have it both ways.  Either prisons serve primarily to rehabilitate or they serve primarily to punish.  It is okay for people to call for blood, but it is not okay to call for blood in one breath and one instance and to call for leniency in another for another individual.  Yes, punishments should fit crimes.  However, we must be aware of our own internal biases when determining whether our desires are clouded.  If the rapist in question returns to a productive state in society and does no further harm, then the sentence was just, as rehabilitation was reached and the contribution to society was maximized.  It is the role of the courts to determine this risk and not public opinion. The mob is a faulty compass for what is best objectively, even though it checks the pulse of what is in vogue subjectively.  Resist the zeitgeist of the heart.

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  1. Andrew says

    You have a point. I think one of the things people get upset about is that a lighter sentence will not be enough of a deterrent to keep others from committing similar crimes. What you said about those in the “in-group” getting reduced sentences and those in the “out-group” getting heavier sentences is true. One only has to watch “The War on Drugs” to see that. Maybe prosocial psychopaths are needed in the justice system as they are very good at pointing out hypocrisy.

  2. Joe says

    Is it really a matter of hypocrisy or a lack of understanding something? Theft, murder, drug crimes – these all have identifiable motives. Rape and sexual offenses are grey. Perhaps psychopaths want to kill people or have the desire, but what motive is behind it? Hate? Contempt? Envy? The school of thought is that rape is a violent act for control and not so much the sexual act itself. If so rape truly would be a psychopathic offense. Many people fantasize about rape, but these same individuals do not commit the act? Because if they ever take it to the point of acting on it – they find themselves in a realistic situation that is not the fantasy. My point is rape unlike many offenses is purely psychopathic in nature.

    I assure you that if the punishment of rape was to sever the nerves to the genitalia and going through life with a catheter – it would fit the crime and offer rehabilitation. The empaths instead choose to allow the psychopath possible remission or wisdom to fill their empty soul later in life. This is a mistake.

    So am I empathetic to the drug dealer that allowed greed and power to outweigh his desire to acquire wealth in some other way? I am empathetic to the murderer who feels he was done wrong? Perhaps – but this is based on motives. Mickey and Mallory Knox – should they be allowed to rot in prison or face the death chair? It is based on motives and to me rape is a psychopathic act. Here lies the hypocrisy you speak of…

    • Jessica Kelly says

      Sometimes motives do not exist. Free will always allows for rehabilitation regardless of motives, anyway. I am not privy to the thought processes that the correctional system uses when determining whether one is a good candidate for rehabilitation, but we – as a society – cannot swallow the lie of treating the correctional system as a positive tool for reform when we do not offer objective and equal opportunity to show one’s willingness to change. These are bad people, yes, but we are deluding ourselves with our own liberal narrative when we cannot even be consistent with how we apply it.

      • Andrew says

        I had another thought that I’d like to add. I’ve read that psychopaths (and I’m not including prosocial psychopaths here) see people as objects – as a means to an end. So I guess then this would mean that a psychopath sees rape as no different than burglary or vandalism. Neurotypicals see breaking into and damaging a person (rape) as much more serious of a crime than breaking into and damaging a building.

        • FNP says

          More than likely, rape is seen from the eyes of the rapist to be exerting power over someone, whereas murder is exerting complete and utter control over them (both assuming it’s not a crime of passion, ofc). Property damage is usually about hating something, rather than power or control. Afaik, thieving/burglary/etc. is generally about taking things you don’t have or are unwilling to/incapable of getting.

          • Andrew says

            That’s one thing I’ve never been able to get. First of all, of course, I have to try to put myself in the place of a power-hungry person but, even when I do, what kind of satisfaction is there in having power over someone who doesn’t present much of a challenge in the first place? I’m being very general here but most men can overpower most women and most rapes are committed by men against women. So, if I want power, how am I powerful by overpowering someone that most any other man could overpower? The only thing I can figure is that it goes back to being angry at their mothers because when he was a child his mother had power over him and as an adult he’s still angry about that and trying to get revenge on mother. Also, about breaking in being about taking something you can’t have – maybe some men rape because they feel they have no chance with women in normal relationships. Here we go again, getting off of the main topic – which is the rationale for sentencing. Sorry Jessica!

          • FNP says

            The idea that all sexual needs or desires are based on the mother is Freudian psychology, which has long since been debunked as utter crap.

          • Andrew says

            I’m not a proponent of Freud either but I believe we were talking more about the need for power. Why else would a grown man feel the need to overpower a woman if not to get back at his mother from a time when she had more power than he did?

  3. Andrew says

    I just have one more thing to say about this post. This guy showed no remorse and is even trying to get his six month sentence overturned. It sounds like the leniency he has received is due to his being a white male star athelete of a prestigious school and that is no reason for leniency any more than someone in the “out” group getting a longer sentence.

    • FNP says

      The thing is, he wasn’t up on rape charges regardless. He was in trouble for “intent to commit rape”, not for actually raping anybody.

      That’s the main reason he got 6 months instead of several years.

      • Andrew says

        But he did sexually assault her, didn’t he? I looked at the article again and can’t tell, due to the way it’s worded, if he had the intent to rape but did sexually assault her or if he intended both. Either way, I’m glad that he at least had to register as a sex offender. I don’t know FNP, I think it’s kind of like waiting until a shooting takes place when you catch someone on their way somewhere with ammo and plans before apprehending them. Would we let such a person out in just six months?

        • Andrew says

          He actually did rape her. I found this:

          On January 18, 2015, a woman was brutally assaulted on Stanford’s campus during a Kappa Alpha Fraternity party. Brock Allen Turner, who at the time was a Stanford freshman, was found thrusting himself into an unconscious woman on the ground behind a dumpster. Two Stanford graduate students witnessed the incident and stopped the perpetrator.

          • FNP says

            He was charged with intent to commit rape, not rape. Whether that’s the fault of a shitty prosecutor, or the fault of whatever-her-name-was for not reporting it as rape… the world will never know.

  4. beneficii says

    I think this country is overly punitive, which results in problems like this:


    Americans are quite willing to fund prosecutors and police, but are unwilling to fund public defense adequately. They see doing so as “helping” rapists and murderers and other criminals, apparently unwilling to consider either that the defendant may actually be innocent or the charges and/or sentences being pressed for by the prosecution may be too severe for the crime. By not providing for indigent defense we are creating greater injustice.

    As I understand, most people justify this by appealing to the “just world hypothesis”, where they believe that bad people get what they deserve and good people get only good stuff. If something bad happens to you, they say, then you must have done something to bring it on yourself. Or, they may appeal to fantasy, like some police officers who claim infallibility in determining guilt on the spot: “I don’t arrest innocent people.”

    IMO, these are really poor excuses, concocted by the weak-minded to justify wrongdoing. They are not willing to admit that the system they’re a part of can be really messed up and that sometimes bad things happen to good people.

    • FNP says

      Good thing the guy in question is a dick who thinks with his dick all the time, and not “good people”.

      • beneficii says

        Yeah. I’m not weeping for this guy. He’s rich, so he has the best legal representation money can buy.

        • FNP says

          Which is why he didn’t go with a high-end defense attorney, right? He went with a normal one. Just because he went to Stanford doesn’t make him rich.

          It just means he went to a school that costs far too much for the same quality of education as a good community college.

          • beneficii says

            No idea. Clearly, however, he had good representation. There are many disadvantaged people who can’t get legal representation, or it’s entirely inadequate. The Innocence Project shows that a lot of innocent people have gotten ensnared because of this (among other reasons).

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