16 July, 2010

Abandon hope

Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1981, has been told he must stay in prison for the rest of his life. 'The parole provisions do not apply to you', said the judge.

I can't say I am happy about this.

What is prison for?

It is not, as some of our tabloid papers and perhaps many of their readers seem to think, about society getting revenge. It might be about protecting the public, and it might be a deterrent to others thinking of committing the same crime.

On the first of these grounds, supposing we were convinced that Sutcliffe posed no further danger to society? Indeed his doctor seems to have said just that. Shouldn't we at least hold open the possibility of release? He is said to be in poor shape and almost blind.

On the second ground, Sutcliffe would seem to be a special case. I have always felt that some crimes are so awful - the 1960s Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley might be in this category - that you must be quite disturbed to commit them. No one is going to be thinking of murdering prostitutes - supposedly on advice from God - and then be deterred by the heavy sentence.

Now he is just going to be left there, perhaps praying to his unreliable god for a death which will be denied him.

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