Sep 01, 2009

Phillip Garrido: The Justice System Plays Catch and Release

Phillip Garrido has been arrested for kidnapping 11 year old Jaycee Dugard in 1991. Until August 2009, he was able to hide her in tents and shacks in his backyard. He even fathered two daughters by her. Garrido and his wife were arrested and Jaycee and the girls were finally set free thanks to the instincts of Berkeley (CA) police officers who serendipitously talked to Garrido and the girls and realized that something wasn't right. 

Now authorities are at a loss to explain why Garrido was out on the streets in 1991.  In 1976, he had been convicted in federal and state courts of rape and kidnapping and was given a 50 year prison sentence in Nevada and a life sentence in federal prison.  However, he was paroled after 11 years, leaving him free to kidnap, rape and imprison Jaycee Dugard.   

This tragedy has come to light while California struggles about what to do about its unaffordable, overcrowded prison system. One obvious response is to save money by releasing prisoners.  But opponents of prisoner release are sure to use Phillip Garrido as an example of the bad things that will happen when we play "catch and release" with criminals.

I would argue, however, that prison release programs can actually prevent the release of inmates like Phillip Garrido.  Inmate populations may simply be too high for prison officials to deal with competently.  Dangerous prisoners are sometimes lost in the shuffle and released because nobody has time to pay close attention to what is happening.  I suspect that if we have fewer prisoners, we'll have fewer Phillip Garridos.