Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Crime and Punishment

Standing in the kitchen as some of the early details of Ana Kriegel's brutal murder began to emerge, my reaction was one of anger.

'Hanging's too good for whoever did this!' I seethed to my wife. It'll give you an idea at how furious I was to know that I've opposed the death penalty pretty much all my life. But in the heat of the moment the story of her terrible death, and her body being left to be further desecrated by whatever wildlife might happen upon her in that abandoned farmhouse, was just too much for me. I make no apologies. Such things should anger us.

We are not, however, supposed to make our decisions based on emotions, but on calm and rational thought. My anger over this murder doesn't change my reasons for opposing the death penalty. My thinking on this issue has been pretty fixed since boyhood.

Firstly, I'm horrified at the idea of an innocent person being executed. And that, unfortunately, happens. That it may be rare is of no comfort. The second is that there is no consistency when it comes to who is executed and who is not. It is well established that, even when their crimes are largely the same, the rich person is more likely to go to jail while the poor person ends up on death row. Wealth, not guilt, determines who lives and who dies.

There are those to whom such things don't matter. The death penalty is simply wrong and that is all there is to it. That's not my position. To me the problem isn't that it's immoral as such, but rather that it's not morally applied. And I'm not sure it can be. Because of that I think that it is better that it not be used at all.

However, society has not only the right to protect its citizens but a duty to do so. That means the legal sanctions used as alternatives to the death penalty must be severe. The wrong-doer must be punished both because the evil done is deserving of punishment but especially so that others will see their fate and hopefully be deterred from committing similar crimes themselves.

I am not convinced that our sentences for killers are sufficient. Many get out after only a few years, to the distress of the victims' families and the terror of ordinary people. Surely twenty years, minimum, does not seem unreasonable? And longer if the courts see fit depending on the circumstances. Those who kill again after release should go back inside forever. And the man who rapes and murders a woman must go to prison for the rest of his days. No second chances. We all need to know, women especially, that he'll never be able to hurt another woman again.

Our government has been letting women down a lot lately. They need to change the laws to help keep them safe. And if they don't then their failure should anger us all.

published in the Kilkenny Reporter, 30 May 2018

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