California's "unprecedented mass forgiveness" of convicts raises more than a few questions

In case you hadn’t heard, California’s governor has been on something of a binge in terms of releasing convicts from prison and reforming the system to be more fair to everyone. Prison reform and rehabilitation vs isolation is all the rage these days it seems. The Washington Post ran a feature this week on how wonderfully this has been going and it certainly makes a grade A effort to paint a happy face on these proposals.

It begins with the story of Jose Gonzalez who was arrested in 1977 for what they describe as a grisly murder, but was released last year. He speaks of how shocking it was to breathe the free air again and how he’s now working a productive job answering phones. Given that Gonzalez is now more than 60 years old, you can see that he got off to a very early start on some serious crime. And his release wasn’t without controversy. Cheryl and Gary Effron fought his parole right up until the last minute and with good reason. They are the children of James and Essie Effron, who Gonzales savagely beat to death with a metal pipe after they hired him to work in their small store.

Gonzalez was hired as a temporary worker at the store. The 22 year old didn’t last long on the job. The Effrons fired him for being rude to customers. Essie Effron told her daughter that Gonzalez’s reaction to being fired frightened her.

“He looked at me like he was going to kill me. And no one has ever looked at me like that before,” Cheryl Effron said her mother told her. “Those were her words, those were her last words to me.”

The next day, Nov. 21, 1977, Gonzalez and two accomplices forced James and Essie Effron into the basement of the store. They were separated from one another, tied up with neckties and beaten with metal pipes.

“Their heads were wrapped in blankets and they were bludgeoned to death, both of them,” San Diego Deputy District Attorney Richard Sachs said. “It was a horribly painful, bloody way to die.”

Oh, and that “productive job” answering phones that Gonzales landed is one where he works for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Human Rights Watch, the groups that pushed to get him released. This next bit is from the WaPo article:

Gonzalez is among thousands of felons benefiting from a grand experiment, an act of mass forgiveness unprecedented in U.S. history. In California, once a national innovator in draconian policies to get tough on crime, voters and lawmakers are now innovating in the opposite direction, adopting laws that have released tens of thousands of inmates and are preventing even more from going to prison in the first place.

The most famous is a landmark ballot measure called Proposition 47, which in 2014 made California the first state in the nation to make possession of any drug — including cocaine and heroin — a misdemeanor. More astonishing is the state’s decision to show leniency toward violent offenders, including murderers like Gonzalez.

That’s so touching, isn’t it? It’s a grand experiment in mass forgiveness. Except Gonzales wasn’t convicted of having a few too many bags of heroin in his backpack when he got picked up for jaywalking. He tied up the Effrons in a basement and beat them to a bloody pulp with a pipe. For that monstrous act he was sentenced to life. And now he’s free.

Perhaps I’m just a dark hearted monster, but it seems to me that some things are bit beyond the limits of Christian forgiveness. Gonzales isn’t the only one falling into this category either. I’m perfectly willing to discuss criminal justice reform and a fresh look at sentencing guidelines, particularly when it comes to low level drug offenses. But surely there are limits. Are these really the people we want to be putting back out on the streets?

The original article was edited to correct the date of the murders and the age of Gonzales.


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