Spitzer's Penal Problems

There are rumblings of reform coming from Sacramento. Reforms aimed at starting to straighten out the state's dysfunctional prison system. The Los Angeles Times reports, "the Senate's top Democrats on Thursday moved toward reforming California's byzantine criminal sentencing system."

Unveiling legislation to create a sentencing review commission, Senate leader Don Perata of Oakland and Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles said California should join 16 other states now revisiting the question of who goes to prison and for how long.

It's an attempt to remove politics from the sentencing process. Gov. Schwarzenegger's PR people say he's "thrilled" that the Dems are getting on board with reform. And given that "getting tough" on crime is one of the easiest tricks in the politician's bag of cheap demagoguery, which makes the justice system vulnerable to any good bumper sticker slogan, you'd have to wonder where you could find someone who would object to taking politics out of sentencing.

Where? C'mon, you should know by now-- Orange County.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) said suggesting that lawmakers "punt to a commission that has no accountability is a nonstarter."

"They want to take the politics out of it," said Spitzer, who was a prosecutor before becoming an elected official. "But in my opinion, the politics is critical to making sure a liberal Legislature does not become more soft on crime."

Todd Spitzer-- wants to preserve his right to get all Republican on convicts' asses. And, of course, maintain the ability of politicians to promise more and more brutal punishments regardless of reason or justice. After all, the promise of revenge is a more reliable vote getter, especially in Republican primaries.

Interestingly enough, Spitzer was last seen in the pages of OC Weekly almost a year ago, demonstrating his expertise in matters penal. Then he was dealing with the other end of penal system, not sentencing, but killing.

Steve Lowery noted in his Diary of Mad County for January 28, 2006:

In a story in The OC Register, Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) says he witnessed the recent execution of four-time murderer Clarence Ray Allen. Spitzer, staunchly pro-death penalty, says he was impressed with how "professional" the procedure was, mentioning that one of the attendants wiped down the 76-year-old Allen's arm with an antiseptic pad before inserting the needle that would deliver the killer cocktail of drugs. … Spitzer later says in the piece that witnessing Allen's death "made me realize that it absolutely is a humane process to put someone to death."

Of course, since then a federal judge has ruled California's death penalty unconstitutional, declaring the "implementation of lethal injection is broken". Where Spitzer saw "a humane process", U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel found the procedure so painful it violated the Eight Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment". (Members of the American Veterinary Association refuse to use the drugs the state uses, because using them to euthanize a sick animal would be to too cruel.) Where Spitzer was impressed by how "professional" the killing was, the judge "said executioners were poorly trained, worked in dim, cramped quarters and failed to properly mix the lethal, three-drug cocktail used to kill condemned inmates." Fogel has given the state until May 15 to submit a plan that won't violate the Eighth Amendment.

So, perhaps Todd Spitzer isn't the first person one should turn to for expertise on penal matters. Unless, of course, you're like Stephen Colbert, and you don't believe that important issues should be decided by " the Factanistas".


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