Thu, Oct 07, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Mandatory sentencing is barbaric

BY BRADLEY WINTERTON

An argument against the savagery of Taiwan’s new seven-year mandatory sentences is not in any way an attempt to excuse or absolve child--molesters. A nation is judged, at least in part, on the justice of its legal procedures, and to lock away for such extensive periods men who are clearly more in need of help than punishment puts Taiwan in the company of some of the most brutal regimes on the planet.

Future generations will look back on these mandatory sentences in the same way Europeans now look back on such judicial barbarities as death by burning at the stake, mutilation, hanging and drawing and quartering.

Prison sentences are after all relative. If seven years is the length given for violent bodily assault, possibly in the course of armed robbery, then an appropriate sentence, together with a great deal of counseling, for sexual involvement with a child might be just the two years that the agitators for the new mandatory sentence have managed to convince so many people were “lenient.”

Waves of frenzy on any sexual matters are always highly suspect.

The motivation is in this case presented as being the protection of children. Maybe it is. However, puritanism in general, invariably including the active persecution of sexual minorities, tends to act like a wildfire, burning out of control until its energy has been exhausted.

More bills before the legislature are planned, including one from the Democratic Progressive Party caucus that proposes an almost inconceivable 20 year minimum sentence without parole for sexual acts with anyone under the age of 14. Should this become law, it would represent legislative insanity of the highest order.

Those involved in reacting to these pressures would do well to consider carefully what they are doing before making their final decisions. It is very easy to go along with such pressure, but far harder to resist it and risk being labeled as someone who does not want to protect the nation’s young.

Purity movements in general always present a difficulty for politicians, ever aware of voters’ possible reactions. If they refuse demands for harsher penalties it can all too easily look as if they are refusing to protect children. The answer, of course, is for them to argue that what they are doing is protecting the independence of the judiciary and its right to assess cases on their merits rather than under the shadow of draconian mandatory sentences.

One final point: Why are these anxious moralists, many of them doubtless parents of young children themselves, not making certain their own children under seven are being kept safe from potential molesters? Is it not the parents’ responsibility, first and foremost, to protect their offspring?

Imprisoning pedophiles for enormously long periods of time is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The harm has already been done and it seems unlikely that these brutal new punishments will deter anyone intent on embarking on what is in essence highly irrational behavior.

What these new regulations will do, and have already done, is mark this country as a brutal place, a reputation totally at odds with its general international profile. They will also impose on desperately inadequate people punishments which, in any reasonable society, should be reserved only to protect the community from the most hardened, violent and savage criminals.

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