Political Animal


October 06, 2012 2:24 PM Saving State Money, One Charles Manson Acolyte at a Time

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

“A former Charles Manson follower who was imprisoned for a double murder engineered by Manson won a recommendation of parole Thursday after 40 years in prison.”—CBS News, October 5, 2012.

“Thirty years ago, the state accounted for nearly 70% of [California’s] public higher education funding; today, it’s 25%…The [California] prison system saw its state funding in dollars leap 436% between 1980 and 2011.” —Mother Jones, October 2, 2012.

I’m all for shifting California’s public funds from prisons to higher education, by reducing penalties for small-scale drug offenders. But do we really have to release this guy?

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • Al Whassizname on October 06, 2012 2:34 PM:

    The guy is 80-something years old. I believe any capacity for violence or inciting violence has long passed. What do you expect him to do - assault you with his walker? Use the Manson Mind Meld?

  • alwaysiamcaesar on October 06, 2012 3:29 PM:

    I was thinking along the lines that there was a big difference between Manson and his followers . Manson , because he was happy having inflicting pain and death , was quite a different kettle of beans from those idiots who performed his rituals .
    Still I do sympathize with the revulsion of that violence and its perpetrators confined .

  • Calvin Ross on October 06, 2012 3:52 PM:

    Our sentences in almost all cases are too long. Just like with health care, we need to be outcome-based. How many 20-year-old murderers leave prison at, say, 40 end up murdering again?

    We have an odd society. By allowing almost all types of guns to be legal, the result is almost 40,000 gun deaths a year. We accept that, but not the odd chance that recidivism rates might not be totally zero for people not locked up for eternity?

    The problem is across the board, not just non-violent offenders. We're not safer because we lock up some many people. We'd be safer if we used the money on education and rehab. Better outcomes all around.

  • Larry Reilly on October 06, 2012 4:00 PM:

    I suppose you consider this post thoughtful.
    From now on I'll pass on the juvenile weekend postings.

  • Karen on October 06, 2012 4:07 PM:

    And the commenters demonstrate why I still support the death penalty. First, this guy is 79. No 80. More significantly, this guy participated in one of grisliest crimes in US history. He murdered two people on the order of a cult leader. I don't care if he's not a threat. Freedom is in and of itself a good thing. I remember hearing an interview with the family of one of the victims of the monster featured in "Dead Man Walking," who said " why should he celebrate his birthday? On my daughter's birthday, I go to the graveyard." What possible good is served by allowing this monster to die a free man? If the families have to suffer, why shouldn't the person who caused the suffering?

  • Karen on October 06, 2012 4:11 PM:

    crap. He's 70, not 79.

  • cthulhu on October 06, 2012 4:19 PM:

    We let murderers out all the time; it's is part of the system that murder doesn't result in automatic life sentences without parole, nor should we want that system, IMO.

    He's satisfied the parole board and, in fact, didn't participate in the more sensationalistic murders but rather only those of musician Gary Hinman and the caretaker at the Spahn Ranch, Donald Shea. And I don't know enough about the case to know how involved in those murders he happened to be. It seems likely that 40 years behind bars might be an appropriate punishment and, as noted, the cost of further incarceration of this particular guy, could be better spent on currently more dangerous criminals or elsewhere.

  • Matt on October 06, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Yeah, this is pretty silly. It's not like he took a parole slot that some lesser criminal should have gotten. You can parole as many people as you like.

    Something tells me our esteemed blogger wouldn't have noticed or cared except for the word "Manson."

  • Ashbee on October 06, 2012 4:39 PM:

    Retributive justice is immoral,economically burdensome, and is the root cause of recidivism. Locking up and throwing away the key on convicts does nothing in the way of rehabilitation. It's not like it free to house inmates, as your statistics indicate. Now tell me, what sense it makes to keep a 80+ year old locked up on the taxpayer's dime, if only to satisfy a vengeance on the part of people who think like you?

    I would love an answer please.

  • NealB on October 06, 2012 5:15 PM:

    Wow. Has Washington Monthly sunk as low as this? On the ropes financially, Kilgore's decided to introduce Simon van Zuylen-Wood with this?

    And whoever you are, Simon van Zuylen-Wood, whatever your age or ability, what a crappy question. What a crappy post. Get lost.

  • brent on October 06, 2012 5:26 PM:

    Obviously the two things have nothing to do with each other so I assume this is meant to be some sort of a joke. Its just oddly phrased and not especially humorous. Obviously most people didn't even get that it was a joke. You could be, for all I know Simon, a very funny guy usually, but I would humbly advise you not to try using this particular joke again. Its not very good material.

  • lostnbr on October 06, 2012 5:57 PM:

    "But do we really have to release this guy?" No, but the prison system should have some capacity for rehabilitation, and the parole board, with facts in hand, should have the ability to recognize it.

  • Doug on October 06, 2012 6:35 PM:

    Perhaps Mr. Zuylen-Wood was rushed?
    I'm presuming the point was to highlight the difference in state support for higher education versus the penal system. If so, wouldn't it have been better to begin with the decrease in state financing of education in California, segue into how great the increase has been for the penal system and THEN finish off with the Manson tidbit? Something along the lines of "Not only has California increased spending by a factor of X, they've even paroled a member of the Manson "family", perhaps?

  • Death Panel Truck on October 06, 2012 6:56 PM:

    I'm good with letting out Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkle, to be quite honest with you. They're not the same people they were 40 years ago. Manson, on the other hand, hasn't changed a bit.

  • TCinLA on October 06, 2012 7:21 PM:

    You are really the most witless poster that has ever appeared on this blog. A second weekend of your 20-nothing idiocy is more than I can take. How Kilgore ever thought a semi-literate ignoramus like you was someone to sponsor here is beyond me.

    Why don't you go to someplace more your speed, like RedState????

  • Anonymous on October 06, 2012 7:53 PM:

    when did the commenters of this site become such assholes?

  • Larry Mills on October 06, 2012 8:00 PM:

    As a former prosecutor, I am willing to let the actual people who have the current information (Parole Board) make the decision. I have been second-quessed uncounted times, I agree with earlier posters that it is unlikely he is a continuning threat to the public. Other than that, further prison is simple retribution, somethimes appropriate, but eventuallly, we need to get past.

  • Dr Lemming on October 06, 2012 8:02 PM:

    It's sad to see how some commentators can airily -- and sometimes crassly -- dismiss a blogger just because they happen to disagree with one of his posts. I had hoped that the Washington Monthly wouldn't succumb to rigid litmus tests. Why? Because if democracy is going to survive we need to learn how to talk across differences.

  • Joel on October 06, 2012 8:19 PM:

    Sorry, no. This is a lame post. Simon knows nothing of the particulars of this case, nor does he know about the parole process. He substitutes "Manson" for analysis for sensationalist appeal.

    This isn't about a discussion across differences. This a discussion of third-rate blogging. It simply doesn't belong on this site.

  • Keith M Ellis on October 06, 2012 9:32 PM:

    Yeah, I wouldn't have been as harsh in my criticism as previous commenters, but this is very far from a thoughtful, substantive post. Simon doesn't consider any of the difficult and oft-discussed issues involved in these matters, but rather simply offers his visceral dislike of the parole of an elderly convict he (apparently) knows almost nothing about.

  • Karen on October 06, 2012 9:45 PM:

    He, and the two women mentioned, may not be the same as they were 40 years ago, but that's because they have been allowed to live and change, something they denied their victims. Yes, some killers get paroled, usually ones where the crime had its origins in a bar fight or gang action. This particular crime would today get a life w/o parole sentence. The only reason any of the Manson killers are eligible for parole ever is because the Cali death penalty was ruled unconstitutional and all death sentences were converted to life, with the parole option.

    See, this is why people still believe in the death penalty; morons misplacing their sympathy, that properly belongs only to the victims, on vicious monsters who just happened to survive prison long enough. Will you all celebrate when Anders Brevik walks out of a prison that is nicer than all of the houses in some countries in only 20 years? How is that justice for his victims?

  • devtob on October 06, 2012 10:07 PM:

    Does anyone think this old guy is a public safety threat?

    As if he would again, 40-plus years later, participate in another Manson murder.

  • jprichva on October 07, 2012 1:37 AM:

    @Karen: "He, and the two women mentioned, may not be the same as they were 40 years ago, but that's because they have been allowed to live and change, something they denied their victims."

    Will continuing to punish this man bring his victims back? You're locked into a mindset of vengeance, which is too often (though not supposed to be) what's behind incarceration. Incarceration should be about keeping the public safe from people like this. So when the public no longer needs protection from a now-feeble old man, why continue to have him locked up?

    I understand your solicitude towards the victims, but they are long past being the beneficiaries of you concern.

  • NealB on October 07, 2012 1:46 AM:

    Are any of us, really, hearkening to mass murderers as comparisons to, well, anything? Really? Just, hard to know, how to respond (except to say that it's crap). Blogger wants to disgorge tomes of information about mass murder, go nuts. But to cite it as a valid reference point to anything else, without at least a little bit of analysis raises a flag.

    I don't like some of what I read here, because I think Kilgore (as smart as he is) often defers to the so-called "new democratic" line that subsumes a lot of anti-labor, anti-middle-class ideology. I'm guilty of the same laziness, ideologically, but it makes me nervous when a post here just comes right out and says it: convicted mass-murderer is a valid, generic baseline.

    It's not. We all know better than that.

  • tsts on October 07, 2012 3:22 AM:

    Simon van Zuylen-Wood:"But do we really have to release this guy?"

    No, we don't have to. But we could, if it is warranted. And that is what the probation commission decided, after 40 years (which is longer than the maximum penalty in many other democracies). If you disagree, please make an argument based on the facts of the case. Instead you are just throwing out platitudes we might expect from a politician who wants to look "tough on crime".

    @editor: We need a new blogger. This one is broken.

  • LWC on October 07, 2012 11:34 AM:

    Didn't anyone read any of the comments from last weekend where again most were disparaging of Mr. Van Zuylen-Woods and his facile posts? He's no good. He's no good. He's no good.

    And Karen, go take a nap.

  • Anonymous on October 07, 2012 12:48 PM:

    CA is killing itself with the prison system. This guy has paid. His life is over. Release him.

    The tradeoff in CA is clear - higher ed or prisons. The voters choose prisons. Prisons make more prisoners. Higher ed makes productive citizens.

    Also 3 strikes is another insane thing. It's Les Mis all over - life imprisonment for the 3rd strike of a bicycle theft.

  • Bob M on October 07, 2012 2:01 PM:

    "Retributive justice is immoral..."


  • Tina Trent on October 09, 2012 9:48 PM:

    This guy has "paid"? Do any of you half-wits even know what he did? You're hysterically piling up on each other to defend a repugnant double murderer because someone suggested that he ought to remain in prison, and you feel the mere suggestion has sullied your high-minded comment thread? The vapors -- and self-important prattling -- made me think I was knee deep in jokers. But I'm beginning to think you're serious.

    He might be 'more prone to recidivism because of retributive justice,' Ashbee? That's a good argument for NOT letting him out, sweetie. Take it slow.

    He "didn't participate in the more sensationalistic murders but rather only those of musician Gary Hinman and the caretaker at the Spahn Ranch, Donald Shea." Gee, thanks, "Cthulhu." What a touching, twee reflection on the relative worth of human lives.