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.
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,