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Robert H. Richards IV

Another case of affluenza? A judge has ruled that Robert H. Richards IV, an heir to the du Pont fortune, should not face jail time after raping his three-year-old daughter. The reason Judge Jan Jurden gave for sentencing Richards to probation was that he “would not fare well in prison.”

Richards is six foot four and weighs roughly 250 lbs and has no physical disabilities. Presumably the judge meant he was temperamentally not suited for prison, though who is?

Judge Jan Jurden’s sentencing order for Robert H. Richards IV suggested that she considered unique circumstances when deciding his punishment for fourth-degree rape. Her observation that prison life would adversely affect Richards was a rare and puzzling rationale, several criminal justice authorities in Delaware said. Some also said her view that treatment was a better idea than prison is a justification typically used when sentencing drug addicts, not child rapists.

If child rape is not a crime worthy of prison then we might want to reconsider the idea of imprisonment. Richards’ crime is heinous by any moral standard and he certainly has demonstrated an inclination to harm others.

The lax sentence for the du Pont heir calls to mind the affluenza defense that allowed a Texas teenager who killed four people while drunk driving to escape prison. Experts for the defense argued that the Texas teen was spoiled by his parents or suffered from “affluenza” and therefore did not belong in prison.

The fact that Jurden expressed concern that prison wasn’t right for Richards came as a surprise to defense lawyers and prosecutors who consider her a tough sentencing judge. Several noted that prison officials can put inmates in protective custody if they are worried about their safety, noting that child abusers are sometimes targeted by other inmates.

“It’s an extremely rare circumstance that prison serves the inmate well,” said Delaware Public Defender Brendan J. O’Neill, whose office represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. “Prison is to punish, to segregate the offender from society, and the notion that prison serves people well hasn’t proven to be true in most circumstances.”

That is a rather odd statement from a judge, that Richards should not go to prison because he will not “fare well.” Does Judge Jurden think prison serves people well most of the time? Rehabilitation has been thrown out for the most part in American correctional policy now it’s all about incapacitation – which is a good rationale for putting a child rapist in jail, it stops him from doing it again

Iif we, as a society, are going to move away from incapacitation towards rehabilitation of convicts, fine by me. But I have that sneaking suspicion that this sentence has a lot more to do with what Richards’ inherited than what he did.