On August 21st, 1979, two girls aged 17 and 21 entered Rose and Louis Feit’s apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn and demanded money. Rose refused, so the girls grabbed a knife and a potato peeler out of the kitchen drawer. Rose Feit, who was 73, was left with 28 stab wounds, according to court records. Louis, who was 80, had 59. Both died of their injuries.
Valerie Gaiter, the 21-year-old, was convicted of two counts of robbery and two counts of second-degree murder. Almost 40 years later, she’s still technically a “violent offender.” It’s a label that increasingly defines American ideas of who ought to be in prison. But statistically she has long been among the people at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility least likely to ever commit another crime.
That’s not just because she’ll be in prison until she’s at least 71. Valerie Gaiter would still be less likely to reoffend even if she’d been released decades ago, studies indicate. But sentencing policies in the U.S. continue to be founded on fear-driven misconceptions of who poses a danger to society, experts say. That’s why recent criminal justice reforms exclude people like Gaiter, as well as people guilty of sexual offenses, in spite of evidence that they’re generally the most promising candidates for shorter sentences.