Crime, Punishment and John Jairo Velásquez

The United States criminal justice system sits at one extreme, imprisoning more people per capita than any other country at 724 per 100,000. That needs serious reform, but I suspect one of the reasons we haven’t backed off on criminal sentences is the fear of falling into the sort of trap exemplified by Colombia’s treatment of John Velásquez.

Velásquez was a hitman for Pablo Escobar. As Wikipedia notes, he confessed to 250 killings, including the assassination of several political figures in Colombia. He admitted he participated in a failed assassination attempt on presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, and was convicted of participating in the subsequent successful plot that resulted in Galan’s murder.

Along with the 250 people he killed by himself, he ordered the murders of another 3,000 people.

Velásquez was eventually captured and sentenced to prison in 1992. But under Colombian law, the maximum prison sentence is 30 years, and prisoners can receive parole if they serve 3/5ths of their sentence with good behavior.

So on August 26, 2014, at the age of 52, Velásquez was released from a Colombia prison.

That is insane. Someone like Velásquez is a paradigmatic case of an individual who should be permanently isolated from larger society. A justice system that allows such hardcore criminals to rejoin society is one that practically flaunts its surrender to lawlessness.

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