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What happens today if Johnny Cash ‘shot a man in California just to ‘watch him die’?
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

Crime and punishment is an archaic concept.

Johnny Cash would be singing the blues if he were alive today.

He sang about being stuck in Folsom Prison.

That was after he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

As a side note, you can’t kill a man in Reno, be convicted, and serve time in Folsom.

You commit a crime in Nevada and are convicted, you end up in the Silver State pen in Carson City and not in a joint in California.

But I digress, well sort of.

Cash was an artist.

He is entitled to poetic license.

But is the same true of politicians?

The California prison reform movement is in overdrive.

The mantra for the past decade or so, especially in California, has been crime and rehabilitation.

It is a concept that makes sense.

But it is how it is being executed.

As well as how far it goes.

Gavin Newsom is right — to a degree.

And so was Jerry Brown — to a degree.

The “system” wasn’t really good about reforming and rehabilitating.

Recidivism was off the charts.

Reforms have reduced the rate somewhat.

But the problem is the folks at the point of the reform movement want to cross the Rubicon.

In essence, they want to deep-six the concept of punishment.

The banner they are carrying is crime and rehabilitation, period.

Consider where we are today.

Newsom has closed two prisons.

The legislative analyst’s office has recommended closing five more prisons.

The goal is to save money.

There are 15,000 empty beds in the state prison system.

There were 120,000 inmates in the state system in 2019.

Today there are 95,000.

The number was 165,000 in 2006.

The inmate count has dropped 20 percent in five years.

It is down 45 percent in 18 years.

That’s good, right?

Think about it for a second.

Newsom isn’t jumping up and down wanting to close more than two additional prisons.

He’s already closed Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy and Susanville.

Blythe and California City are set to have the plug pulled by March 2025.

Yet, his fellow Democrats are jumping on the bandwagon provided by the legislative analyst’s office.

So why isn’t Newsom?

You don’t get to be governor without being a bit calculating.

Newsom has just over 2.5 years left as governor.

Given he isn’t up for re-election and there’s a super majority of his party in the California Legislature, Newsom could do almost anything he wants?

Not if he wants to get elected president in 2028.

If prison reform gets too far ahead of him, Newsom could have political baggage that wouldn’t play well with moderate Democrats in Peoria, let alone those who are in California and act as the only check and balance against the most outlandish legislative proposals floated by the progressive wing.

The best thing for everyone is to take a deep breath.

Assess the situation.

Does Proposition 46 need tweaking?

Or, here’s a real big possibility: Is the reform movement going to overshoot the runway and be accused of exactly what their critics said they were going to do which is hand out the equivalent of get out of jail free cards to any inmate that has a heartbeat?

Newsom is not a stupid man.

Closing prisons is not reform.

As much as it might pain his critics to concede it, his plan to remake San Quentin into a model of incarceration that reflects the Scandinavian “way” with more emphasis on job training, substance abuse programs, mental health programs and more robust scenic classes might break the prisons-make-criminals-more harden mold.

Do not misunderstand.

No one in their right mind should even believe such an approach would work with all, or even the majority of, felons.

But simply closing prisons without trying a somewhat different approach is simply going from one extreme to another.

And there still has to be real punishment for heinous crimes.

Real punishment is long sentences that reflect proportionately to the act committed.

Which brings us to the powder keg issue: The death penalty.

Newsom vowed never to have an execution on his watch.

The governor has already transferred 174 death row inmates at San Quentin to high security prisons.

By the end of this year, all 644 inmates condemned to death will have been transferred to one of two dozen high security prisons within the system and housed with the general population.

The move did not modify the condemned murders’ sentences or convictions.

The move in itself will reduce the cost of housing a “death row” inmate in almost half.

Circle back to the effort to morph crime and punishment into crime and rehabilitation.

The most adamant want time behind bars to be either the absolute last resort or to never happen — in most cases.

The problem with that approach is it also comes with the caveat that the perpetrator has some mitigating circumstances that excuses them to varying degrees be less responsible for the crime they committed.

Johnny Cash would think that was wacko.

The world isn’t black and white.

But that is exactly the card the most adamant reformers are playing.

And it is the same card they accused the crime and punishment advocates of playing.

Clearly, killing someone for the sport of it calls for punishment.

We don’t try to rehab rabid dogs that kill.

And while there may not be consensus for the death penalty based on concerns like Newsom and others have about how it is applied, someone convicted of multiple first degree murders or murder with added things like torture, should be locked up forever.

There is no need to rehab them for re-entry into society.

They should die in prison.

That is the best possible outcome they could ever hope to have.

The punishment fits the crime.

As for what Cash might think, his song said it all about after saying he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

Cash had it right.

“Well, I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free.”