Prisons Should Be For Protection And Rehabilitation–Not Revenge

In November 2009, Andrew Conley, 17, was wrestling with his 10-year old brother when he decided to put a choke hold on him. This was no innocent big brother antic, however. It was the act of a killer.

Conley was a very troubled teenager. He had tried to kill himself because of fights he had with his parents. He told authorities that he had fantasized about committing murder since the 8th grade. He got his wish with that choke hold, squeezing the life out of his brother and disposing of the body.

Conley would be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. Appeals were made all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. Yesterday, July 31st, the court upheld the conviction on a 3-2 decision. Andrew Conley, now 19 or 20, will never be free again.

Conley,18 (AP Photo)

I know the gut reaction to this ruling for many will be relief, victory, and justice. A Conley “victory”–challenging the stiff sentence–at the state Supreme Court would be unpalatable given his actions. But I also know that many are troubled by such a sentence given to a young man with a history of mental concerns.

In the back and forth about his age and mental and emotional problems though, few ask this simple question: what if during his incarceration he becomes truly rehabilitated?  (That is supposed to be the idea behind jails after all.) Is it best then to have him continue to waste away in prison?

Focused purely on how hard much to punish, there’s little to no consideration of prison’s role as a place to secure and help dangerous people. True, the role of punishment and protection often go hand in hand. But it’s easy to parse out the priority of punishment–of making him pay, of vengeance–in this case, because they took away all possibility for release.

Let’s say in twenty years Conley gets help and becomes a good person. Life without parole guarantees his inability to try and give back to society for having taken so much. From a purely practical standpoint, it guarantees his inability to be a productive member rather than a drain on resources. The justice system in Indiana–in America, in general–prefers he and others like him never have that chance. We spend our tax dollars to ensure it can’t happen.

Then again, he may never change. We just don’t know. So why eliminate the possibility of release? –Because punishment is the priority, and rehabilitation and protection are afterthoughts.

to new plateaus,



*The info for this article was taken from the USA Today and The Oakland Press.




4 Responses

  1. Tuxster

    Revenge? No, that is your interpretation of the matter. There is no evidence that the sentence the defendant received had anything to do with revenge. The defendant was sentenced in accordance with the laws of the State of Indiana.

    What is your proof that the sentence handed down is a result revenge, on the part of the State?

    1. Just because it’s the law doesn’t mean it’s not revenge. The whole legal system is largely defined by it. I come to that conclusion because if factors besides revenge more influenced a sentence, they wouldn’t hand out a punishment that leaves no room for letting him go should he be rehabilitated. All that remains is our need to see him pay. I call that revenge.

  2. Ian

    Most people get worse in prison, not better. It’s not a place that’s conducive to emotional/psychological healing.

    If we’re going to make generalizations about peopling wanting revenge, you should also make generalizations about people wanting others to get better. People are routinely given parole chances after 7-10 years for murder charges. It’s possible to think someone would murder once and never again, but what about sex offenders, especially pedophiles? They are extremely likely, almost guaranteed to repeat their offenses, and unless they are caught doing something particularly gruesome (or murdering to cover-up), the punishments are fairly light.

    If we’re making generalizations, maybe it averages out.

    1. Those are good points, Ian.

      I agree there is some elements of rehabilitation in our prison system; it’s just not a priority.

      I don’t think we should put people in prison according to how “bad” their deed was but according to how much of a threat they are to society. On that basis, it’s very tricky to let a pedophile go–we know this today. On the other hand, Koua Fong Lee was sentenced to ~8 years right here in Minnesota for causing a traffic accident. He was coming home from church with his family when he rear-ended a car and killed three of the passengers. No one doubted it was an accident–even the prosecution. But that didn’t prevent sending the husband and father to prison for many years. (Eventually, he was released early because of the Toyota recalls and the chance that his car actually malfunctioned.) But whether it was the car’s fault or he hit the wrong pedal (which the prosecution claimed) why send him to prison anyway? He’s not a danger to society–unless you consider him a bad driver. So take away his license. The only reason was to make him pay.

What say you?