Kidnapping victim and current child safety advocate Elizabeth Smart is calling the early prison release of her kidnapper Wanda Barzee “incomprehensible.” Barzee, who helped her husband Brian David Mitchell kidnap and hold Smart prisoner when she was a teen for nine long months, will be released from a Utah prison on September 19th. She pled guilty in 2009 to both federal and state charges. She served her federal prison time first, then her state prison time. But now, the Utah parole board has decided they must count the time served on her federal sentence as concurrent, not in addition to, her state sentence.
That means Barzee will be released a full six years early, and Elizabeth Smart is understandably very unhappy.
The TODAY show reported that Barzee refused to report to her mental health evaluation with a prison psychiatrist or even attend her own parole hearing, yet she is still released. In this video report from CBS news, a spokesman for the Utah parole board says it has no choice but to release her anyway.
Really? Why is the psychiatric evaluation voluntary? That scares me more than just a little. Since Barzee participated in the physical and sexual abuse of a child for nine straight months, I find that truly unacceptable.
Smart released a statement yesterday, and says she will soon speak publicly about Barzee’s impending release. For now, she says:
“It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” she said. “I appreciate the support, love and concern that has already been expressed and will work diligently to address the issue of Barzee’s release as well as to ensure changes are made moving forward to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.”
In the past, she has said that although she has forgiven her captors, that doesn’t make their behavior acceptable, and she holds Barzee just as accountable as she holds Mitchell. She told CBS News in a podcast last year about Barzee, “I looked at what she was doing to me—I mean, I felt like she was every bit as responsible, if not more, because she had HAD children.”
Barzee did indeed have six children with her first husband, but she abandoned them all to focus solely on Mitchell when he demanded it.
Smart, now a mom of two herself and very pregnant with a third child, cannot comprehend how a mother could let such horrors happen to any child. And neither can I.
Taylor Telford of the Washington Post said it perfectly when she wrote yesterday:
“When her husband said God had ordered him to take another wife, Wanda Barzee believed him. When he stole a teenage girl and dragged her up a mountain, Barzee helped keep her captive for nine months. When he raped and tortured the girl, Barzee never intervened.
Now, after 15 years behind bars, Barzee will go free next week.”
I don’t care what abuse Barzee herself suffered at Mitchell’s hands. I am sad for her, but it doesn’t excuse what she did, and fifteen years behind bars in trade for Elizabeth’s nine months of torture as a child—a child—is not enough.
Justice has NOT been served in this case.
Thankfully, Mitchell is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.