Dalrymple wrote this piece last month after Anders Breivik received his “ludicrously inadequate and disproportionate” sentence for murdering 77 people. He notes the defense of such leniency offered by the deputy director of the Norwegian prison department (“A person can change”) and responds:
I find what the deputy director said creepy, or mildly sinister, in its implications, if not yet in its practice. It suggests that the primary purpose of the criminal law for his society is the redemption of the criminal, and that no act – not even the killing of seventy-seven people – is beyond the pale for it. A society for which nothing is beyond the pale is built on foundations of sand. If Quisling were to return to Norway, he would not be executed as a traitor, he would be treated as a person whose change of opinion is pending.
One notes that if you take repentence even into consideration, you end up with a situation where being guilty shortens your sentence: exonerated innocent but convicted prisoner often serve longer than the guilty, because they refused to admit their crime and say they were sorry. Surprise, surprise!