Bill Otis on Prison: Ain’t Nuthin’

One of the voices in the blawgosphere that frequently comes in useful as a test of sanity is Georgetown Law School adjunct prawf Bill Otis, formerly Chief of the Appellate Division, US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and a host of other cool government posts.  Whenever one’s views align with Bill’s, it’s a clear sign that you need to stop binge drinking.

At Crime & Consequencessponsored by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Bill takes on the annoying and persistent harangue that sending a person to prison is such a big deal.

Going to Prison Will Ruin Your Life

…or so say those who urge less prison and more resort to “community based programs”  a phrase that means, roughly translated, “Let them run wild while we pretend to monitor them and then profess shock at their next murder.”

Still, trying to take this seriously, is it the case that going to prison will ruin your life? Well, it’s going to create complications, you bet.  If you’re honest, you’ll have to tell prospective employers about it.  The time you spend there will be time subtracted from your career. Your treatment, everything from diet to clothing to medical care, is not going to be optimal (unless you demand a sex change, in which case you get transferred to the Ritz). Sometimes the treatment can be worse than substandard; it can be abusive.

So does going to prison ruin your life?

Now it’s unclear who Bill refers to when he writes “those who urge less prison and more resort to ‘community based programs,'” since he offers neither name nor link, but he certainly must have someone in mind or else he’s manufactured a strawman, and that would be dishonest. Bill would never be dishonest, but then, he’s failed to provide attribution, and lawprofs would never neglect attribution.  It must be an oversight.

Bill then “interprets” his unattributed assertion so nobody misses its true meaning:

“Let them run wild while we pretend to monitor them and then profess shock at their next murder.”

So whoever is arguing for community based programs must be doing so for murderers, since he refers to the next murder, which of course means it comes on the heels of their prior one. I, for one, would be curious to know who is arguing that murderers should be sentenced to community based alternatives, as I’m unaware of anyone who takes this position. Oh, if only Bill hadn’t forgotten to include the link for attribution.

But Bill, always a fair-minded fellow, concedes that prison isn’t a pleasant place.  He even concedes that there are some trivial post-release consequences of prison, like having to tell prospective employers about it, but only if you’re honest. And, of course, we all know that criminals aren’t necessarily inclined to be honest, so that’s really a red herring at best.

On the other hand, Bill doesn’t really mention that the former prisoner won’t get that job from the prospective employer, because people are kinda weird about hiring former murderers. And then there’s the inability to find housing for the same reason, or get student loans for an education, or deportation despite their having lived in the United States since they were two months old, and having a spouse and children who are American citizens.

On the bright side, since Bill is talking about murderers, there is no need to worry about the sex offender registry, unless there was a sexual component related to the case as well, like peeing against a wall in public after the murder.

But in fairness, Bill doesn’t argue, as some might suspect he would, that prison is the Ritz (except for Bradley/Chelsea Manning, who didn’t commit murder, but let’s not get technical on Bill), when he finally answers the pressing question:

So does going to prison ruin your life? Ask Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer. And remember her story the next time a defendant or defense lawyer tells you that incarceration is the death knell of a productive future.

Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer?  Did she go to prison? Did she commit murder?  Well, not exactly.  At 110, she is the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor, and still plays Bach and Schubert on the piano.  How wonderful, but what does surviving the Holocaust have to do with having a productive future after prison?

Putting aside the implications of Godwin’s Law, there seems to be a troubling disconnect between Bill’s grasp of the implications of being a Holocaust survivor and a prison sentence.  Perhaps he’s unaware that people who go to prison are the targets of societal disdain and hatred, while survivors of the Holocaust aren’t considered blameworthy for having been victims of the Nazis.

Did Bill miss the day in grade school where World War II was discussed?  Is he laboring under the misconception that concentration camps were just prisons the Germans set up to house their many criminals?  Is he accusing Ms. Alice Herz-Sommer of being a murderer who, but for her time in prison, would have gone out and committed her next murder?

Every once in a while, the forces of darkness, of harshness, who believe that all defendants are evil and deserving as severe a punishment as society can mete out, comes up with something as shockingly false and idiotic as this, comparing the sentence of an American prisoner to the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp.  It’s worth noting, as Bill Otis reflects the more forceful voices out there, deemed legitimate voices by some, calling to perpetuate the harshness of our system.  Because if concentration camp survivors can go on to lead productive lives, it clearly show that prisoners can do the same.

Remember this the next time a defendant or defense lawyer tells you that incarceration is the death knell of a productive future. And remember that Bill Otis said so.

H/T WindyPundit


18 thoughts on “Bill Otis on Prison: Ain’t Nuthin’

  1. Ken Bellone

    Read the OP, and even from a non-Jew, one comparing political persecution to prison should suffer the same loss of privileges as one who does when they are put through the meat grinder that is the U.S. prison system. I have taken my kids to Dachau (particularly disturbing, and it wasn’t even close to one of the “worst” camps) when visiting Munich and the Ann Frank House in Amsterdam over the years on vacation and even as kids, they could have figured out the difference. My wife, who was educated in one of the Philippine’s best universities (don’t laugh, they are actually far better than most American institutes of learning, WWII history aside) where only the Pacific theatre of the war was even taught in school, as they were directly under Japanese occupation was left speechless.

    What an asshole. Sorry, just couldn’t help myself. Jesus, some folks just don’t get it. You may want to put me back on probation or ban me, but that pisses me off.

  2. Dan

    There’s a better example. Nelson Mandela went to prison for 27 years. Then he became president of his country and an internationally beloved nobel peace prize winner. Clearly then, prison causes one to become internationally beloved peace prize winners and the occasion to go there should be welcomed and celebrated.

    1. Noah

      It’s not just political prisoners like Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and MLK Jr who thrive after prison. French writer Jean Genet wrote his first poem in prison and became one of the greats. Surely Mr. Otis was thinking of the many prison arts programs, and hoping that if we imprison enough people, more geniuses will emerge.

      I’m not sure if prison did anything for Martha Stuart though. Maybe she just wasn’t in long enough?

  3. Mike Paar

    I’m often chastised for showing my glee whenever someone who holds similar views as Mr. Otis gets a comeuppance. Whether it be former Las Vegas prosecutor David Schubert who sent hundreds to prison for minor drug crimes and who then committed suicide after being unable to find employment after he himself was convicted of possessing crack cocaine, or Maine’s former top drug prosecutor James Cameron, who went on the run after learning he was going back to prison for another dozen years on a child pornography conviction, these stories always make my day. One of my all-time faves is the former federal judge from Texas who whined about having to listen to another inmate being raped just two-cells down from his own. I look forward to the day when I’m again chastised for not concealing my emotions should Bill Otis ever be sentenced for a crime and he gets the royal tour of The Ritz.

    1. SHG Post author

      And you’re about to be chastised again. Since I like you, I didn’t toss your comment and instead try to explain. Your comment isn’t about Otis or this post, but all about you. If you want to write about you, that’s great. Just not here. This isn’t your soapbox about things that Mike Paar thinks about Mike Paar. Sorry, but you’re back on moderation. If future comments don’t appear, that will be why.

      1. Mike Paar

        Sorry, I didn’t intend for my post to appear that way. I was simply hoping to remind Mr. Otis, on the chance he happens across your blog, that even those who portray themselves as perfect law-abiding citizens can just as easily as anyone be caught in a web of their own making, and be punished in accordance to their own words.

        Glad you like me. It softened the humiliation of a public reprimand just a little.

        1. SHG Post author

          So why didn’t you just say that the first time. Do you see the difference?

          So you know, Otis reads here, though he’s loathe to admit it. And when he comments, as he does occasionally, he tends to froth at the mouth a bit. Kinda like having rabies, but without an excuse.

  4. John Barleycorn

    Does Mr. Otis do immigration jokes too? Or does he limit his extra circular stand up comedy performances to jail porn and life lesions?

    I wouldn’t be too critical of Bill though. I have heard the audiences in the Eastern District of Virginia can get pretty hostile if you don’t pander to their sense of righteous indignation as part of every punch line when it comes to “us” and “them” jokes.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m not sure, but I think this is a video from the Georgetown law school talent night with Bill doing a routine. I always pictured Bill as being taller.

      1. John Barleycorn

        You are such a tease and here I thought you had some underground footage of Bill in the basement of some frat house pontificating on proportionality while getting paddled by a 300lb masked luchador purist pulled from the modern traditions of Lucha libre.

        I am very disappointed as it is rumored that this footage might have at one time existed in super fan Saddam Hussein’s extensive private Lucha libre collection.

        I think you are aware but if your millions of daily readers are not, the should know that Bill is in fact an expert on the proportionality of sentencing who has a proven track record in the center ring which is remarkable considering he graduated from Stanford in the ’70s.

        The man is a legend!

        “A sense of proportionality argues in favor of eliminating Libby’s prison term. This was an unusually harsh sentence for a first offender convicted of a nonviolent and non-drug-related crime.”
        ~Prof. William G. Otis

        1. SHG Post author

          Wow. That was a blast from the past. And I’m sure he meant it about Scooter. No political interest whatsoever.

          1. John Barleycorn

            Hey now! Politics had nothing to do with it.


            I am going to call Bill and get him in my corner.

            Link provided as definitive proof that judicial discretion is for pansies and punitive sentencing reduces crime.

            1. John Barleycorn

              That information had been classified by the Federalist Society who sponsored that particular event.

              But I have it on good authority Bill is the one in Black. He’s really not a bad guy. In fact you could even call him genuinely compassionate if you took a broader view of his illustrious career in the ring.

              “A partial commutation would send the message that we insist on being truthful, but in the name of a justice that still cares about individual circumstances, we will not insist on being vindictive.”
              ~more Bill on Scooter

  5. Nigel Declan

    Bill Otis seems to have hit the trifecta here: his argument is fallacious, relying heavily on false equivalence and strawmen; his argument is noxious, invoking the spectre of concentration camps seemingly for the sole purpose of being able to respond to any criticism by accusing the critic of suggesting that prison is somehow worse than Nazi death camps; and it not only fails to persuade as to how “easy” prison is, but instead provides evidence of the heavy stigma and bias faced by those convicted of crimes, ironically undermining Otis’ central thesis.

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