Redemption, Forgiveness, and the Rule of Law

Arguing for leniency toward criminals, especially those who have confessed and expressed remorse, would seem to serve the cause of compassion. But what if the crimes are as depraved as those of Myra Hindley’s?

What does it mean for someone to say, “I now realize that kidnapping and torturing to death small children is wrong, and I deeply regret having done it”? She was comparatively young at the time of the commission of her acts, no doubt, but she knew perfectly well that they were wrong: their very wrongness, in fact, is what made them attractive to her. And how long after the commission of the acts does the realization of their wrongfulness and the regret at having done them have to be before they are deemed relevant to the question of the length or severity of punishment? Suppose they come instantaneously. Do we therefore say, “Well, that’s all right then, so long as you realize that what you did is wrong and regret having done it, we shall not punish you at all”—because to do so would be pure vengefulness?

Dalrymple at the Library of Law and Liberty

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