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The Real Meaning of Barbarism

from the magazine

The Real Meaning of Barbarism

England’s penal system isn’t punitive enough. Winter 2007
Public safety

The Lord Chief Justice of England recently observed that in the not distant future, prison sentences longer than five years will seem as barbaric to us as whipping or the stocks now seem.

Let us examine a recent example of English penal barbarity. A man called Mark Goldstraw, living in Leek, killed a woman called Deborah Wheatley by hitting her over the head with a mallet, fracturing her skull in seven places. After she was dead, he hid her body in a cupboard. Goldstraw was angry with Wheatley because she refused to leave her husband for him. He received a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment—in effect, one year per fracture.

Released halfway through his sentence, he served only six months per fracture, as it turned out. The parole board evidently believed that his crime was what prisoners call “a one-off,” caused no doubt by a rush of blood to the head.

Soon after his release, Goldstraw, now 34, returned to Leek and formed a liaison with a 16-year-old girl. She then made the mistake of trying to leave him, which he could not accept. One night, when she, her stepfather, her four-year-old brother, and her ten-year-old sister were safely asleep, he broke into the house, doused it with gasoline, and set fire to it. All four occupants died. When the police arrested him, Goldstraw explained his burned, gasoline-soaked clothes by claiming that his motorbike had exploded while he was repairing it.

It emerged that a condition of Goldstraw’s
parole was that he stay out of Leek, but no one supervised him after his release. Such laxity, which seems to be the rule rather than the
exception, will not reassure the British public that any part of the system works properly.

Found guilty once more, this time of illegally causing four deaths, Goldstraw received a life sentence, with the recommendation that he not come up for parole again for 35 years. As the Spanish say when mildly surprised, ¡Qué barbaridad!—What barbarity!

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