Some 19 years after Sara Kruzan, convicted murderer, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, she's going free. Not that she wasn't guilty; she openly admits to killing a man at the age of 16, and also admits she deserved to be punished for it. Yet of all the people overcrowding the state's prisons, Kruzan shouldn't be one of them. As a January 2011 editorial in The Times noted:
"Sara Kruzan had been abused physically and sexually for most of her young life before she was gang raped, then pushed into a life of prostitution at age 13 by the neighborhood pimp. When she was 16, she robbed and killed the man, a crime for which she was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"Sixteen years later, Kruzan has earned an associate's degree through the local community college, has participated in many of the prison's rehabilitation programs and has shown a level of growth and maturity that makes her a promising candidate for rejoining society. (Former Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger's decision to reduce her sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole gives her a chance to do just that."
The parole board recently decided in her favor, and Gov. Jerry Brown, though he didn't endorse the decision with his signature, nonetheless allowed it to go forward. Kruzan reportedly hopes to move in with an aunt; it might be better, at first, if she could live in a halfway house designed to help women gain a toehold in society. For all of her extraordinary achievements in prison, Kruzan has never lived as a free woman outside it; young as she is, she has now lived the majority of her life behind bars. Failure to provide her with a structured transition could undo some of the progress she has made.
Now 35, Kruzan certainly sounds like a woman who could have a lot to offer society. She has displayed commitment, good judgment and enormous discipline during the last 19 years. Surely if the prison system is supposed to reform, along with protecting society and punishing criminals, Kruzan is a model of the possibilities.
It's too bad that Brown didn't give a more positive signal while allowing her release. Not because Kruzan suffered as a child, not because she didn't receive anything even approaching a reasonably normal childhood, but as a sign of belief that people really can change. If we can't release someone like Kruzan with good wishes on our lips, there is little reason to believe we can ever rehabilitate any of the incarcerated.