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She killed a 9-year-old and then wrote in her diary about it. She was 15.

There is something shocking, yet intriguing in the story of Alyssa Bustamante, now 18. Alyssa has been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. During the trial, she rose and apologised to the Elizabeth Olten’s family. The victim’s mother thinks Alyssa is a monster. Alyssa’s imprisoned father believes that she is the product of a broken home and a family history full of suicide attempts and substance abuse issues. In fact, shortly after Alyssa’s mother walked out on her in 2007, the teen attempted to commit suicide and was prescribed medication.

Elizabeth Olten

Are medicines enough to substitute for a loveless family life? Prozac, if her attorneys are to be trusted, certainly wasn’t. Shortly after increasing the dosage, she became uncontrollable. However, her decision to kill the young girl was not made in the heat of the moment. It was a carefully calculated decision. She even dug the graves a few days before and used her sister to lure Elizabeth to her death. Then she went home, wrote about the experience in her diary and went on with her life.

Alyssa Bustamante in court

Most likely, they young woman, who looks more like a little lost child herself, will spend many years in prison and will have plenty of time to think about her actions. However, it does make one wonder what she is supposed to be doing all day long in prison. She will receive food, medical care, education and access to a variety of services (maybe gym or other activities) which will be paid by the American people. At the same time, she will not be a fully functioning member of the society, which of course will minimize almost to zero her contribution to the common good during one of the most productive periods in a person’s life. While in prison, she will be deprived of all the experiences that allow youngsters to turn into sane and healthy adults. Therefore, eventually, there is a great possibility that she will never reach her potentials in terms of productivity and social contribution, but in the contrary, she will require government assistant for many years to come.

However, a viable alternative wouldn’t be the death penalty. It would be cruel in a very twisted way (and even a waste of money) to keep looking after an 18-year-old in order to execute her when she runs out of appeals. Nor is her being set free a better decision: she did commit a crime with full awareness of her actions. Indeed, she was actively seeking to experience committing a murder. There may be many ideas and projects that aima at alternative ways to pay one’s dues to society, which are even more relevant in this case due to the high rate of incarcerated people in the United States.

However, there will always be, whether we would like to admit it or not, the family’s need for some short of justice, which is culturally associated with time spent in prison. It is a social issue which may go against the creation of a cold, calculating social system, but does inspire trust to the government and the state mechanisms. Another not-so-rational factor that plays a major role in the rehabilitation of prisoners is the taboo associated with ex-cons, which has an impact on their professional development, social status and marital prospects. Many of these people are labelled broken and “unfixable” even before they go out to the world and try to prove that they have changed.

The question remains though if a country should move past the declaration that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” and seek alternative ways to develop the personalities and skills of the prisoners with the hope that one day they will be useful to society. It is not only a matter of morality, but also a matter of economics: decrease in the money spent by the government for support of the vulnerable and unemployed, increase of productivity and social harmony etc. It is also a question of motivation: the reform cannot be a question of money spent on fancy facilities, but should principally include ways to convince prisoners that there is a good enough reason for them to change.

In the meantime, Alyssa will go to prison. Elizabeth’s parents will feel a bit better. She may come out of prison as a change person. She may live a better life after this experience. Everybody may reach some short of happiness at the end. Or may be not.

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