Prisons in many states are overcrowded, and that has led both judges and state legislators to look with favor upon schemes to free up cells, sometimes by giving felons opportunities to shave years off their sentences. That is a situation in which government should proceed with caution.
Too often, vicious criminals are freed from prison only to return to lives of violence. And some of those sentenced for crimes allegedly involving temporary insanity continue to be violent for years.
On Christmas Eve, two volunteer firefighters in Webster, N.Y. were murdered and two others were wounded by William Spengler, a 62-year-old ex-convict who set fires to lure the firefighters into an ambush. Spengler then committed suicide.
He was paroled from prison in 1998 after spending 17 years there. His crime: In 1980, Spengler used a hammer to murder his 92-year-old grandmother. For years after being paroled he led a quiet life - before turning murderously violent again.
Why on earth was a man who killed his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer ever let out of prison? More worrisome, how many other homicidal maniacs, in the literal sense of the term, have been released from prisons early? It's a question that needs to be asked - and answered.