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As the UK democratically decided against capital punishment, John Beer says it is right for released killers to be ...
As the UK democratically decided against capital punishment, John Beer says it is right for released killers to be protected by the state.
Since they were convicted of the murder of Jamie Bulger, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson have been in the care of their council and in what is known as secure provision. At the age of 18, they would normally have moved into an adult prison. At some point they will be released from custody, and there is debate about how much protection should be given to them by the state.
In Britain, the state decides the tariff for particular offences. Judges independent of the state decide the actual sentence, and usually its final duration is based on progress made in rehabilitation by the offender.
The problem with the early release of the murderer of a child is the abhorrence many people feel at showing mercy to somebody who showed no mercy themselves. Many parents of murdered children say they have a life sentence of grief, so it is understandable that they believe the punishment should extend for the whole life of the individual who took their child away.
Unless you have had one of your own children murdered I believe it is impossible to predict how far your demand for retribution would reach.
Certainly in the immediate aftermath I would expect many parents to have murderous intentions towards the perpetrator. How long that desire continues will depend on several factors, not least how much or for how long those convicted were 'punished'.
The UK democratically decided against capital punishment many years ago. But even in countries where it is legal there is often an age below which young people are not executed. I know of no country that puts young offenders in prison until old enough to be executed.
The reported desire of some of Jamie's relatives to kill his murderers is understandable and not unusual. But as we do not have capital punishment in this country it is right that the state protects them from what would be another illegal act.
Certain tabloid newspapers appear to hope state protection will not be adequate to keep the murderers hidden. They are willing to spend significant sums trying to find those young people because it will sell their newspapers. It therefore becomes necessary for the state to spend significant sums of money preventing them.
Identifying the killers will put their lives at risk. This equates to the outcome of keeping young murderers alive to be killed when they are old enough. The alternative is to protect them, give them a new start and the chance to redeem themselves by how they live the rest of their lives. We all need to decide what sort of society we want - leaving it to newspaper editors to make that decision would not be my choice.
John Beer, director of social services, Southampton City Council.
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