Representative Danny Davis (D-IL) recommends that R. Kelly get a second chance. In fairness, he does say that Kelly should first serve his sentence. And further, that he is not excusing his behavior. With that in mind, let’s also note that as Kelly is 55 and is facing a sentence of between 10 and 100 years, it is likely that he will either die in prison or be released as an old man. We won’t know until his sentencing on May 4th next year.
Representative Davis has long been a believer in second-chance legislation. He supported the 2008 ‘Second Chance Act’ a broadly bipartisan measure addressing recidivism among ex-convicts. And as recently as 2017 continued to lobby for its funding. It is a noble endeavor. America has a higher percentage of its citizens in jail serving longer sentences than in any other country. However, Davis is not doing himself any favors by supporting Kelly. Let me explain why.
There are a lot of youthful offenders, many of whom are minorities, who commit crimes while still not fully adult, mentally or emotionally. I say this, not to excuse them for their crimes, but only to make the point that they have an opportunity to be more responsible and mature people when they have served their time. Also, a lot of these defendants are indigent and did not receive the defense a wealthy offender could afford.
Unfortunately, the American criminal justice system too often releases offenders back onto the street with the stigma of a felony conviction rendering their employment prospects bleak. And without the tools to do a meaningful job even if they could get one. Often, they entered prison with addictions that were never addressed. And they are freed without a support system. These are people who stand a chance of rehabilitation. And as a society, we should give them a second chance.
But R. Kelly is not a member of that unfortunate brigade. He has three decades of serial sexual abuse under his belt. He victimized the most vulnerable and used his position of power to assault innumerable women often minors. He blackmailed his victims with nude photos. And threatened them with violence if they went to the police. He ruined countless lives. I don’t know what kind of second chance Davis thinks Kelly should be afforded.
(Please note: at this point, the author has removed a paragraph addressing the recidivism rate of sex offenders, based on a comment I received. The assertions made therein may have been too broad, or just plain wrong. Regardless it was insufficiently sourced and thus unsupportable. I don’t believe it changes the overall tenor of the diary)
I don’t believe in the death penalty. However, I do think there are some crimes that warrant a life sentence without parole. Crimes so vile they beggar belief. Take the 2007 Cheshire, CT, home invasion that led to the death of a mother and her two daughters. Here, two irredeemable men, raped and strangled a mother and doused her corpse with gasoline, and set it ablaze. They tied her two daughters to their beds and raped the 11-year-old. The criminals poured gasoline over them while they were still alive. And they died in fear and agony from smoke inhalation after being burned. The father who had been clubbed unconscious managed to get out of the burning house. But will have to spend the rest of his life mourning his family.
And then there are crimes where the number of victims alone justifies a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Every school massacre and mass killings, such as the Las Vegas shooting, where a sniper killed 60 and wounded 867 (411 by gunfire and 456 in the ensuing panic).
However, a life sentence without the possibility of parole is never appropriate for a minor. Let’s note that a life sentence, even with the possibility of parole, is no guarantee the young felon will ever go free. It just allows for the possibility of the offender proving, by thought and deed, they are no longer the criminal they were.
As a country, America is moving closer to embracing second chances as a possibility for every youthful offender. In Roper v. Simmons, (2005) the Supreme Court ruled that youthful offenders could no longer be executed. In Graham v. Florida, (2010) the Court banned the use of life without parole for juveniles not convicted of homicide. And in 2012, deciding Miller and Jackson jointly, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, for people under 18, mandatory life without parole sentences violate the Eighth Amendment — note this just banned the ‘mandatory’ part. Young offenders can still receive the sentence after individual consideration. I believe that life sentences without parole should be banned for juveniles entirely.
Then there are the offenders who are over 18, but still young. It is rarely appropriate to just give up on them. I don’t defend their actions. And I believe they should get severe sentences. But a man who commits a murder at 22, may well be profoundly reformed at 50. It is cruel to not at least consider if he could be a productive and responsible member of society.
And lastly, there are older offenders who had no criminal history but suffered a psychotic break. Say someone who kills during a crime of passion. Or badly beats someone they mistakenly believed had committed an offense against their family. And then there are other older offenders who are still rotting in jail with excessive sentences that are no longer handed down — think of crack cocaine offenses.
R Kelly didn’t kill anyone. And he will receive a sentence that the criminal justice system believes is appropriate. If it allows him to leave prison alive, so be it. But let no one hold him up as an exemplar of a criminal who deserves a second chance. There are far too many significantly more worthy inmates who are deserving of that consideration. And I think Davis would better serve his cause if he held them up as candidates for a new start.