In England, a man named Paul Whiting has just received a sentence of life imprisonment for the abduction, sexual assault, and brutal murder of a little girl. It emerged after his trial that prison officials had released him only two years earlier, after he had served two and a half years for abducting and brutally assaulting (though not killing) another little girl.
Even the most die-hard liberals began to wonder whether, in this case, the sentencing for the first offense had been a little lenient. The maximum sentence for kidnapping in England, after all, is life imprisonment, and abducting little girls and torturing them is not something done in a fit of absent-mindedness or by reason of a sudden rush of blood to the head. It tends to become a habit.
Yet British liberals balked at drawing wider conclusions from the case. The fact that most burglars, robbers, and other criminals have committed between five and 15 times as many crimes as authorities have charged them with, according to those lawbreakers Ive spoken with, somehow does not weaken liberals faith in leniency.
Criminals have no such illusions. I was in the prison where I work when a television report announced the Paul Whiting verdict. A group of prisoners watching the report asked me what I would do with the likes of him.
What would you do? I asked.
Wed ang em, they said.
I noted that many other types of serious crime were much more common than Paul Whitings and had a far greater effect upon society: the robbery of old people in the street, for example. Old people in Britain feared to go out because of it, I said.
And theyre afraid to stay at home, added one of the prisonersbecause of burglars.
Precisely, I said. What would you do with robbers and burglars of old people?
The answer was unanimous: Wed ang em.
I pointed out that every year in my hospital I meet with 400 men who beat their lovers, and with 400 women beaten, and often seriously injured, by their lovers. The men, all recidivists, would continue their violent behavior for 20, 30, or 40 years. The consequences of their behavior were often devastating, especially for their children.
What would you do with them? I asked.
Wed ang em, they replied.
Within a few minutes, the prisoners had produced a criminal code that made the English eighteenth-century Bloody Code seem mild and forgiving by comparison. They were surprised that I was not quite as keen on execution as they were. But at least they understood one cardinal fact of the modern world, as our educated liberals do not: that leniency for the criminal is punishment of the innocent.