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A Call to Reason

By Pat O'Connell

The recent news about an ex-murderer being promoted to assistant sheriff of the San Francisco Sheriff's department shouldn't really be such a unique news item but the story got me to thinking about why it would make headlines.

Michael Marcum murdered his father in 1965 and spent seven years in prison before beginning his career as a civilian administrator of San Francisco's jail system, a successful career spanning almost 20 years which has earned him the respect of his supervisors as well as his latest promotion to assistant sheriff.

Good thing for Mr. Marcum he did not wait until after 1978 to commit a murder. Our first and second degree murder sentences are now 25 years to life and 15 years to life, respectively. The parole board appointed by Governor Wilson paroled an ex-cop who donated $30,000 to Wilson's campaign fund, yet others who have done 8, 10, 12, 14 or more years for the same crime as Mr. Marcum are being denied parole despite statistics which show the vast majority of murderers over the age of 40 who have served 8 or more years in prison never again commit a volent crime, despite their obvious self-rehabilitation, despite their support in the community and their matured attitudes and behavior which come with middle age. If Mr. Marcum had waited until after 1978 to kill his father, he would still be sitting in prison, unless perhaps he could afford a substantial contribution to Governor Wilson's campaign fund.

Assistant Sheriff Michael Marcum's story is news, I guess, because we hear so much about the nationwide trend of building more prisons and giving longer prison sentences. But Mr. Marcum's story is just another good example of why we do not need more prisons and longer prison sentences. In California alone, thousands of Mr. Marcums are needlessly still in prison when they could be with their families, being good citizens and contributing to the economy rather than wasting more years in prison while their families also suffer and we taxpayers foot the multi-billion dollar prison costs. All the Mr. Marcums have shown us that a one-time, isolated violent incident is not a pattern and that after seven years of punishment in the cruel prison environment a matured parolee can reenter the community as a law abiding citizen, even a successful career professional.

So what went wrong? The politicians have used disinformation campaigns through the media to promote themselves and do favors for the prison employee unions that have contributed to their campaign funds. The prison employees get pay increases and job promotions when more prisons are built, so of course they want longer sentences and more prisons.

What happened to psychologists and sociologists being on the parole board? Governor Wilson has appointed ex-politicians the public would not elect and gave them the cushy $80,000 a year jobs because they are members of his political party. So Wilson directs his parole board not to release any prisoners and come election time they will all say "See: we're tough on crime. We didn't let any dangerous criminals out of prison and, in fact, we want to make the sentences longer and build more prisons because we're concerned about your safety.

You won't hear Wilson or any of his chums tell you about the Mr. Marcums. If there are as many Mr. and Ms. Marcums out there as I think there are, the public has just as much right to know about them as it does the rare sensationalized exception to the rule which the media has been too quick to point out and which the self serving politicians have used as the weak foundation for their argument for more prisons and longer prison sentences. Mr. Marcum showed us that more prisons and longer prison sentences are not necessary. If we are to spend more billions, let us spend it on the causes of crime. Let's be reasonable about all this.

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