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Goldberg: Why do killers have to show ‘remorse’ to get parole?

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Goldberg: Why do killers have to show ‘remorse’ to get parole?

When Gavin Newsom refused to parole Sirhan Sirhan this month — the 16th time the convicted killer of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy has been rejected for release — California’s governor hung his decision heavily on one central argument: Sirhan lacked “insight” into his crime, refusing to acknowledge guilt or accept responsibility for his acts.

“It is abundantly clear that, because of Sirhan’s lack of insight, his release on parole would pose a threat to public safety,” the governor wrote in an op-ed for The Times, noting that Sirhan, who has served 53 years behind bars, claims he doesn’t even remember committing the crime.

Acknowledging guilt and saying you’re sorry have long been viewed as indispensable prerequisites for forgiveness and leniency.

But in fact there are serious problems with it, at least when it comes to decisions about parole.

For one thing, although a chief goal of the parole process is to decide whether an offender can be safely released, it hasn’t been proved that there’s a direct relationship between remorse, or “insight,” and an unlikeliness to reoffend. For years it was simply assumed that repentant people were less likely to commit new crimes. But as Susan A. Bandes, a law professor emeritus at DePaul University, puts it, definitive evidence is “simply not there.”

Second, admitting guilt and showing remorse in parole hearings has become part of a performance demanded by the system. Lawyers routinely coach their imprisoned clients that displaying both are essential. There are even online sites explaining “how to write a letter of remorse” for the parole board. (“Write ‘I killed my victim,’ instead of ‘my victim was killed,’ ” says one. “Using active rather than passive words helps show the Board that you are not minimizing your role or deflecting blame.”)

What’s the value of insincere, coached or scripted penitence?

A third, and related, problem is that with no objective way to assess the sincerity of an inmate’s remorse, parole boards, judges and even governors can end up relying on their gut feelings — and therefore their biases.

Remember Brock Turner, the Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious schoolmate, but who was sentenced to only six months, at least partly because the judge’s gut told him Turner felt “a genuine feeling of remorse.”

And yet, discerning sincerity is tricky. Schizophrenic people, autistic people and depressed people may show remorse unusually or not at all, even if they are remorseful. Some psychopaths are believed to have a special facility for appearing remorseful when they’re not. Young people often feign a tough exterior. Less educated people may not express remorse convincingly. Overall, facial expressions and body language have been found to be ineffective ways to judge sincere remorse.

“Do we really want to have a litmus test that involves looking into people’s souls, which the law is not equipped to do?” Bandes asked.

Perhaps the most troubling problem of all is that requiring confession and remorse is unfair to those who are innocent.

These days we know that tens of thousands of people locked away in prison are not actually guilty. (Just to be clear: Sirhan Sirhan is not one of them.) There have been a torrent of post-conviction exonerations.

Wrongfully convicted people have to decide: Will they admit guilt falsely and claim to feel remorse for crimes they did not commit? Or will they proclaim their innocence at the risk of being denied parole?

It’s unlikely that remorse will be removed from consideration in parole decisions. It’s too deeply ingrained in the system. And don’t get me wrong: Genuine remorse is a good thing in those who’ve committed a crime. It can be a sign of humanity, of empathy, of growth — qualities that can point toward rehabilitation.

But at the very least, its weight in the parole equation ought to be reduced. And an unwillingness to admit guilt or express remorse shouldn’t be a dispositive reason for rejection.

The key issue in parole decisions should be whether an inmate is likely to re-offend or is safe for release. There are plenty of ways to get at that, including looking at inmates’ good behavior and infractions in prison, their age, their criminal history, their substance abuse history and their psychological evaluations by professionals, among other things.

But we need to be very careful when evaluating a person’s subjective, emotional, perhaps unknowable state of mind.


Nicholas Goldberg is an Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. This column was provided by Tribune News Service.

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More free at-home COVID tests are now available as virus cases spike across US

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More free at-home COVID tests are now available as virus cases spike across US

Every household in the country can now order a third round of free at-home COVID tests as the highly transmissible omicron subvariants fuel a spike in virus cases.

The Biden White House has announced that people can get an additional eight free rapid antigen tests — bringing the total number of free tests available to each household since the start of the program to 16 tests.

“Good news, folks: You can order another round of free COVID-19 tests shipped right to your door,” President Biden tweeted on Tuesday.

Virus cases have been quickly rising as the omicron subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 spread across the country.

“As the highly transmissible subvariants of omicron drive a rise in cases in parts of the country, free and accessible tests will help slow the spread of the virus,” the Biden White House said in a statement.

To date, the administration has distributed about 350 million free tests across the country, in U.S. territories and at overseas military bases, with most tests delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. The third round of tests were purchased by the federal government earlier this year with funding from the American Rescue Plan. The ability to send out future rounds of tests hinges on funding that’s not in place yet.

“Due to Congress’s failure to provide additional funding for the nation’s COVID-19 response, the Administration cannot continue making the types of federal investments needed to sustain domestic testing manufacturing capacity, and this may jeopardize the federal government’s ability to provide free tests moving forward,” the Biden White House said.

“Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to doing everything in our power to ensure the American people have the lifesaving tools they need — so they are prepared for whatever comes,” the administration added. “Congress must step up and act as well.”

Each order now includes eight rapid antigen COVID tests. The order of eight tests will come in two separate packages, each with its own tracking number. Packages will ship for free.

To order a round of tests, visit COVIDTests.gov. People are able to quickly sign up in less than a minute by filling out their name and address.

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Review: ‘His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice’

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Review: ‘His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice’

Two Americas collided in the few minutes that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, after a shopkeeper complained that the 6-foot-6 Floyd had passed a counterfeit $20 bill at a store.

According to the new book “His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” Chauvin, a white, 5-foot-9 police veteran, had become a “cowboy” on patrol, a practitioner of rough policing tactics. He had grown up a child of divorced parents but attended good schools and found his way to policing after taking related college courses.

Floyd’s childhood was starkly different.

Floyd was a cheerful child, saying he wanted to “be someone” — a Supreme Court justice, for example.

But just surviving the drug-infested, poverty-stricken, violence-prone neighborhood where he grew up was an accomplishment of note. With better schools and a more stable neighborhood, it’s easy to envision a different adult passage for Floyd, who failed to pass the exit exam for high school.

He had gone to Minneapolis on the recommendation of a Houston pastor who noted Minnesota’s better education, medical care and rehabilitation systems for people with criminal records.

And Floyd seemed to thrive, until he fell back into drug use.

Floyd’s record of drug abuse, robbery and other minor crimes, plus his intimidating size, were offered as justification for Chauvin’s tactics to subdue the much bigger man. But it’s easy to envision a different life for Floyd that did not include a knee to the neck had he not grown up in a neighborhood infested with crime, illicit drugs and poor schools.

The authors, Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, say in the book’s introduction that they don’t want to absolve Floyd of responsibility for his actions but rather are striving to analyze the policies that affected Floyd’s life.

And they do a masterful, thorough and even-handed job of this.

Floyd supporters say justice was achieved in Chauvin’s conviction but whether the case led to a national examination of conscience is tougher to answer.

What does seem clear is that George Floyd’s name will be remembered as a prominent casualty of the racial and economic gulf in America.

He did as he said as a child “become someone,” although not in the way he had hoped but powerfully nonetheless, prompting Americans to think hard about race and policing in America.

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Gleyber Torres still owns the Orioles even after wall at Camden Yards is pushed back 26.5 feet

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Gleyber Torres still owns the Orioles even after wall at Camden Yards is pushed back 26.5 feet

BALTIMORE — The Orioles moved their left-field fence back 26.5 feet before this season, maybe hoping to contain Gleyber Torres. It may be more difficult to go over that fence now, but Torres is still tormenting the Orioles. Monday night, he reached base a career-high tying four times as the Yankees beat the Birds.

It’s not just the Orioles anymore, though, as Torres has been putting up good numbers for the last week before coming into Camden Yards to see his favorite victims. Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles, Torres was hitting  .412/.500/.588 with three runs scored and a home run in his previous five games.

“I think first of all, he’s hit better than his number suggests. He’s done well, he’s hit some balls out of the ballpark. Obviously, he’s got a number of big hits. . . but I feel like his quality and contact has absolutely been there throughout,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “And that dates back to spring training. I felt like he was from the get go, kind of having good at-bats, getting in strong hitting positions, getting good swings off. I think that’s continued.

“He’s playing well on the field. (Monday) night, he did a little bit of everything,” Boone continued.  “I thought his base running was really good. Obviously a huge play in the field and good at-bats. So I think it’s just a talented player, a maturing player, a young player that’s already been through a lot of experiences at the big league level. And to his credit, he’s learning and growing from all those.”

Torres is coming off two miserable years in which he struggled defensively as the starting shortstop, and that seemed to carry over to his offense. The Yankees finally gave up on that experiment last September and moved him back to second base, where Torres is obviously more comfortable. He made a very heads-up double-play that cut short an Orioles’ threat in Monday night’s first inning.

Torres also took the last two seasons to heart, heading immediately to the Yankees complex after last season to work with hitting coaches to find his swing from 2019.

“I think it is a motivator.  I think it’s taking advantage of experience,” Boone said. “He’s a young player that’s been through a lot already for a young man in this game at this level. He’s been an All Star a couple times. He’s had a lot of success. He’s had playoff success. He’s struggled some and he’s hit bumps in the road. How do you respond to that? How do you learn from that? How do you grow from that? And I think this year, we’ve seen him take a big step forward in that regard and I’m just proud of where he’s at.”

And nothing gets Torres going like a trip to Camden Yards or seeing the Orioles across the field. Torres has hit .328/.409/.642 with 14 doubles, one triple, 16 home runs and 44 RB in 59 career games against the Orioles.

STOLE ONE

On Monday, Giancarlo Stanton hit one of the longest balls of the game, a line drive 387 feet that came off the bat at 114 miles per hour. Normally that would put a run on the board for the Yankees, but not in the new Camden Yards. Stanton hit it to left-center field where the Orioles had moved the fences back 26.5 feet and put up a 13-foot wall.

“When he hit it, I didn’t think so. And then going back and looking I do think so,” Boone said. “So minus one for us.”

The wall also presents a challenge for left-fielders, creating new, strange angles. Joey Gallo said it’s now one of the hardest left fields to play in the majors.

“Now there’s angles, different angles everywhere. There’s a 90-degree angle that definitely makes for an interesting and like, not normal, left field,” Gallo said.

DAY OFF

Aaron Hicks was the odd man out of the lineup Tuesday. The center-fielder went 1-for-4 with a single in the fourth inning in Monday night’s win.

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