Follow-up: Praying a child to death

I wrote last year of a Pennsylvania couple who prayed their child to death. The 2 year old toddler, Kent Schaible, would have survived if his parents weren’t nut jobs motivated by their religion. We can’t bring Kent back, but the more we convict monsters of praying their kids to death, maybe the fewer kids we see needlessly die.

A fundamentalist Christian couple who relied on prayer, not medicine, to cure their dying toddler son was convicted Friday of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Philadelphia face more than a decade in prison for the January 2009 pneumonia death of 2-year-old Kent.

“We were careful to make sure we didn’t have their religion on trial but were holding them responsible for their conduct,” jury foreman Vince Bertolini, 49, told The Associated Press. “At the least, they were guilty of gross negligence, and (therefore) of involuntary manslaughter.”

The Schaibles, who have six other children, declined to comment as they left the courthouse to await sentencing Feb. 2.

This is great news, but I have very little faith in the system to dole out an appropriate sentence. As we’ve seen in the past, some parents get a slap on the wrist for praying their child to death. I hope to see something more substantial for the Schaibles. After all, the point of the system ought to be to correct the behavior of individuals for the better (as the article said, the Schaibles have 6 other children; any that are very young may be in danger) and to make sure society is safer. If parents think they can get away with praying for their sick children instead of seeking real medical help – 30 states have protections for faith healing – then we’re going to keep seeing awful stories like this because children of religious nut jobs will not be safe.

The irrationally harsh laws of America

One thing I can’t help but notice whenever MSNBC’s Lockup comes on is that the U.S. has a lot of morally horrific laws. Plenty of inmates are absolutely nuts and need to be in prison for a long time, but there are also so many who don’t deserve the sentences they get. The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by locking up people for insanely long times, especially when the crimes are non-violent or even victimless. Of course, if our citizens were as white as our institutions, we probably wouldn’t be trying to show the world we can be less forgiving than China.

And the reprehensible laws don’t end there. We have people who get in trouble because some overzealous, moron prosecutors internalize rules. Take the case from last year where teens who were of the age of consent sent nude pictures of themselves to each other over their phones. They got community service for distributing child pornography. That helps no one. No one.

And of course then there’s that whole “Murder is wrong…unless governments do it!” law. I mean, the death penalty. It’s the height of hypocrisy, devalues human life, and is virtually only supported by nations with backwards laws – and I most certainly include the U.S. in that grouping.

With all these irrational laws and punishments, I find it so refreshing when I hear about organizations that fight to help convicts. The most visible groups are the ones that try to stop state-sanctioned murder, but there are also ones like Stanford’s Three Strikes Project that fight against those awful three strike laws present in 26 states.

Students at Stanford Law School’s novel Three Strikes Project, which has successfully overturned 14 life prison terms handed down for non-violent crimes under California’s unforgiving sentencing law, are joined by an unusual coalition in their latest bid. The county judge and prosecutor who sent Shane Taylor behind bars for 25-years-to-life in 1996 now want to help set him free.

His public defender at trial is also supporting Taylor’s plea for a reduced sentence by conceding he failed to mount an adequate defense.

Taylor’s offenses: two burglary convictions when he was 19, and a third conviction for possessing about $10 worth of methamphetamine.

Any reasonable person can see that it makes no sense to send a 19 year old to prison until he’s 44 because he did three stupid things. And this is the typical of these sort of laws. We routinely send young people to prison, removing virtually all discretion from the hands of judges, and to what end? We aren’t educating them. We aren’t removing them from negative environments. All we’re doing is placing them with criminals who are going to teach them how to make a living being criminals.

But maybe Taylor’s crimes do deserve a lot of prison time, regardless of the law, right?

The judge, Howard Broadman, became haunted by memories of the case, believing he had rendered a bad decision in invoking the harsh law. He regretted that in calculating the prison sentence he hadn’t ignored one or both of Taylor’s previous felony convictions: Attempted burglary and burglary that netted a homeless and methamphetamine-addicted Taylor a pizza paid for with a forged check.

And some of the other people in prison under this horrible law?

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says 8,570 third strikers were in prison as of December 2009. Slightly less than half were sentenced for “crimes against property,” drugs and other offenses, including 55 drunken driving convictions.

No one wants to go easy on drunk drivers, but 25 years? Come on.

There’s no rationality behind these sort of laws. They are motivated by nothing more than emotional and a desire for revenge. And they need to go.