If you have committed a serious crime – say murder, rape, paedophilia – do you deserve any compassion from the criminal justice system?
The man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing, in which 270 people died, could be released from his Scottish prison next week to return to Libya because he has advanced, terminal prostate cancer. Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi, a former Libyan agent, has served eight and a half years of a life sentence.
Just last week the British Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who spent 30 years on the run from the law for his part in an armed robbery, was released from his life sentence on compassion grounds. He is ‘gravely ill’ with pnemonia and in hospital. He was released after Britain’s Justice Secretary reversed his earlier decision not to grant clemency on compassionate grounds because Mr Biggs had ‘shown no remorse’ for his crime and subsequent evasion of justice.
In the United States Leslie Van Houten, who was one of Charles Manson’s gang, is hoping to soon get parole on compassionate grounds because she is terminally ill and near-paralysed with brain cancer. She was part of the group who committed vicious murders in 1969, including the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate.
Do people who have committed serious crimes like murder, rape, paedophilia and armed robbery deserve compassion at the end of their life? Or is that a slap in the face to the victims of their crimes?
Some would say that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an example of where compassion towards criminals was shown, with generally positive results.
Should showing remorse be a condition of getting clemency? How far should compassion extend – to letting someone out of prison, or just easing their conditions of incarceration? And should compassion be reserved for only if someone is dying, or are there other circumstances where a criminal could be deserving?