Case study: Leslie Van Houten | MyPaperHub

Summary of the case

Leslie Van Houten was one of the Charles Manson followers that committed a series of murders in 1969. She was 19 years at the time of committing the murder and a committed member of the cult. She even stated that she thought Manson was Jesus Christ. Initially sentenced to death, but the verdict was later overturned to life incarceration following the Constitutional changes in California regarding the capital punishment at the time. She has applied for 19 paroles over the last 46 years that she has served her jail term, and the now 66-year-old lady has had a chance to be paroled following her recommendation for parole. One of her counterparts to the Manson cult named Bruce Davis had his parole overturned by the California Governor Jerry Brown in 2013 because he was still a danger to the society.[1]


Parole is a form of provisionary release of a prisoner that agrees to certain conditions to the completion of certain sentence period. It is associated to the Middle Ages whereby the prisoners were released based on the fact that they gave their word.[2] Te paroled individual is not offered amnesty of commutation of their sentence but rather is still considered to be serving their sentences and hence may be returned to prison at any time if they are in violation of the agreed upon terms of the parole. Some of the conditions of parole include the obedience of the law, maintaining contact with a parole officer and also obtaining a productive and legal form of employment. Parole was introduced through a concept by Alexander Maconochie, who was a Scottish geographer and captain of the Royal Navy upon his appointment as the superintendent of the British penal colonies in the 1840s.[3] It was part of his plan to prepare the individuals for their eventual return to the society and was based on the excellent overall performance of such an individual. In the United States, it was introduced by Penologist Zebulon Brockway in a direct attempt to manage and control the prison populations and also to rehabilitate those incarcerated. In the majority of the states in America, the parole decision is vested in the parole board that conducts hearings to ascertain whether such an inmate is up for parole or not. Good behavior is not merely the only thing that guarantees parole but proves of the preparedness and also rehabilitation of the prisoner as the form of readiness to rejoin society is needed. Such a criminal needs to demonstrate that they are ready and also have the means to be productive members of society.[4]

Before the parole is granted, the inmate has to have an interview with the board and also undergone some psychological examinations. They are also required to agree to abide by the conditions of the parole and is therefore liable to signing a parole certificate or ca form of contract that contains the conditions that the inmate is bound to follow. Upon release, the individual is attached to a parole officer that becomes like the watch for the parolee making unannounced visits to the house and place of work of the parolee.[5] The parole officer is the one that now checks for any signs of contravening of the parole conditions.

It is, therefore, clear that parole for any inmate that is eligible as is the case with Leslie Van Houten is not just freeing the prisoner but is a continued process of rehabilitating the individual and also reintroducing them back to society. It is a second chance to the person to be able to serve their country and make right the wrongs that they may have done in the past that landed them in jail in the first place. Therefore, Leslie Van Houten just like any other inmate in the United States deserves parole hearing. Furthermore, it is within her basic human rights. She deserves the parole hearing subsequent release if she is in line with the parole principles and meets the conditions of receiving her parole.

Justification for punishment that should be used

The justification for punishment that should be utilized in the Leslie case should be rehabilitation. Punishment is the authoritative instituting of an unpleasant outcome or an undesirable outcome to an individual or a group of people as a response to particular actions. In the legal criminal justice system, punishment may take the form of fines, confinement or even penalty. Regarding the legal process, the punishment accorded to the violators of crime is referred to as penology and in modern contexts, it is called corrections that happen through the correctional process.[6]  There are four primary justifications for punishment that guide the United States Justice system. These are deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution. Incapacitation involves trying to stop or bar the felon from committing any further harm to society or individuals since they are imprisoned. Deterrence, on the other hand, works on the principle of trying to deter others from committing similar acts. It is the threat of punishment through the justice system that serves to discourage or scare people from engaging in illegal activities. Retribution is and of serving justice to the society and also the victims of an illegal act.[7] It is like causing similar harm to the perpetrator as the caused to the victims and also the society in general. Retribution causes a form of rebalancing whereby the criminal who had gained benefit over the victim or caused a loss to society or the victim also suffers so as to return the balance in society. The deterrence and incapacitation models of punishment are majorly inclined to reduce future crimes by individuals through making it more costly and also removing the offender from society. On the other hand, the rehabilitative model assumes that the crime is determined by the social forces and not based on the decisions of the criminals while the just deserts doctrine believes in punishments being commensurate to the offenses committed.[8]

For the case with Leslie Van Houten she has gone through the entire process of punishment. It is because she has been behind bars for over four decades when she was taken to be a threat to society. It means that she was deterred from committing any further atrocities to the society and was also incapacitated to do so through the confinement in the prison cells. The community and also the family of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca have had their retribution and also restitution for the case of Leslie.[9] It is because she has felt the pain of incarceration as her freedom was taken away from her for the last decades. As an individual, she has also faced immense separation from her family and also what would have been a bright youth and she has had to spend her entire youth and middle age within the confinement of the prison cells. There is no greater restitution to the crimes committed than that. It is also a form of retribution to the family as they have inflicted the psychological and emotional pain that they also felt as they lost their families. It is also a punishment for society as such events cause a lot of psychological harm to the entire county because of the intensity of the murders that she committed. It is, therefore, imperative that the law now seeks to offer a kind of rehabilitation to the felon.[10] It is counterproductive, and also, it beats the purpose of having a justice system if the needs and also the views of the criminal are also not heard. Rehabilitation as a purpose of punishment is aimed at changing the criminal so as to make her a better member of society. If the individual is no longer offered an opportunity to contribute to society and also a chance to change their actions or behavior, it will make the legal justice system a form of vendetta and not a correctional opportunity as it is called. Therefore, the guiding punishment justification principle that should be used in the case of Leslie should be rehabilitation.[11]

Moral responsibility of Leslie Van Houten

Leslie was part of a larger community and society and was an essential part of society even during his committing of the murder. She was under the moral responsibility to acts a unit of the functional society through acting in a manner that is good for all and not just for her. Her actions should also have been helpful to the welfare of the society and not just cause harm. It is, therefore, this that calls upon her to follow certain norms that guide the community. For her case, she actively supported the Manson Cult, and even she cited that she thought he was Jesus Christ. It was apparent that Leslie’s sense of moral reasoning was based on her strong belief in the cult and also on the teachings that came with them. It is also arguably true that she may have acted in the manner that she did with the thinking that she was still in line with the moral reasoning and the moral code in society as she was doing an act that was necessary according to Manson who she thought was the basis of the moral reasoning. As an individual with clear indications of mental health and psychological problems at the time of committing the crimes, her moral responsibility lay with Manson cult since in her world it superseded the general moral obligations.[12]

Leslie also had a duty that is an obligation to the society and therefore was expected to fulfill the requirements such as the upholding of the laws of the country. She also needed to observe the rights of the individuals such as the right to live for the victims of her atrocities. She was, therefore, contravening with the rights of other which meant that she was not observing her moral obligations and duties at the time of committing the crime. However since her conscience that is the guiding principle of moral responsibility did not recognize the wrong in what she did, she may be taken that her moral responsibility at the time lay with the Manson cult that guided her actions and also directed her conscience.

In the present day, Leslie has had the right form of rehabilitation and also retribution. There are indications that over the years she has not violated any of the major roles in the prison cells according to the correctional officers. She has also faithfully served her prison term and continues to do so since it is her moral responsibility at the moment to offer the retribution to the victims and also the society for her contravening with the moral principles that guide the community. She has further engaged in her moral responsibility and holds the promise of continued service to the community as she has gone ahead to earn degrees and even support others while serving her prison sentence over the past four decades that she has been imprisoned. When asked about her crimes, she is clearly regretful of her acts, unlike the others that held to the fact that they were victims of the flawed justice system. When interviewed she even apologized to the family of LaBianca and is also viewed as a model prisoner to others. Her attorney also acknowledges the fact that she had been back by all standards to society but over the years, she has changed and also gotten a sense of moral guidance and reasoning.[13]


The primary principle that guides the parole boards are that the protection of the society is of paramount importance while considering whether to allow the parole of an inmate or otherwise.[14] Furthermore, the purpose of the justice system is to protect society and individuals from harm and also ensure that individually abides by the laws of the nation. For the case of Leslie, there are indications that she is no longer a danger to society. As her lawyer states, she has been a role model to the other inmates over time having served for over four decades with utmost faithfulness and without any major violations of the laws within the correctional facility. She has also become a model citizen in that over time she has even earned a degree which is an indication that she is ready and also has the tools to become a productive member of society. Moreover, there are over 18 psychologists that assessed Leslie on her current state and have given a clean bill that she is fit to rejoining society and poses no further danger to the community.[15] Furthermore, she was a victim of a broken family and also brainwashing at a tender age of 19 following the traumatic experiences she went through over the course of her young life. Her family divorced at the age of 14 and her mother forced her to have an abortion with the events shuttering her ambitions and dreams in life.[16] It is this that led her to a destructive path in life due to the lack of guidance and also the emotional and psychological consequences of the ordeal and losses she went through. Her actions may have been as a result of the poor young age choices coupled with psychological distress that made her an easy target by the Manson cult. At an age of 66 and also having served her jail term for over 66 years, she has paid the price in many ways. Furthermore, she has also been a subject of rehabilitation over the course of her prison sentence. It is this that has led to her taking responsibility for her actions and even taking a step to apologize to the LaBianca family. She has also taken a path of restoring her life through education and also taken the initiative to mentor others within the prison walls maintaining a high discipline and integrity which is needed in society. Therefore, Leslie Van Houten should be paroled.

[1] Steve Almasy, "Leslie Van Houten, Manson Family Member, Recommended For Parole", CNN, last modified 2016, accessed May 6, 2016,

[2] Howard Abadinsky, Probation and Parole: Theory and Practice (New York, NY.: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011).


[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid


[6] Thom Brooks, Punishment (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012).

[7] John Wilson, "Correspondence: The Justification Of Punishment", British Journal of Educational Studies 19, no. 2 (1971): 211.

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Joel Samaha, Criminal Justice (Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2006).


[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

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