Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Rights of a Criminal

Despite protest from some quarters, Yigal Amir was recently granted the right to have conjugal visits during his incarceration (can you say “tacky headline?”). And although nothing about this mess pleases me, I think it's the right thing to do.

Yigal Amir, convicted assassin of prime minster Yitzhak Rabin and his wife Larissa Trimbobler spent eight hours together in the private room at Ayalon prison for conjugal meetings. The two met yesterday morning after the Shin Bet security service removed its objection to the visit based on concerns that Amir would take advantage of the situation to transmit messages to extremist elements outside the prison.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. The idea of conjugal visits utterly sickens me. These are criminals we’re talking about. They committed crimes against humanity and the State, and they are serving time in prison as a punishment. They do not deserve many of the privileges they receive. They should not be granted conjugal rights. They should not have internet access (unless they can only access my pompous and longwinded posts – punishment enough :) ) Certainly they should not be allowed loose for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and weekend furloughs.

It is true that criminals are still human. They deserve to be treated with dignity, despite their incarceration. They should not be punished in a cruel or unusual manner. But when I think of the terms “cruel and unusual,” I imagine that the one who wrote the law had the rack and the thumbscrew in mind rather than a deprivation of Frisbees (as one criminal sued for.)

So the truth is, I don’t believe than any criminal should be granted conjugal rights. Part of the fundamental punishment of prison is just that – being removed from the circle of friends and family. But if we’re going to give that right to any prisoner not deemed a security risk, then Yigal Amir deserves the right too. It is true that he committed a terrible crime. He is a murderer. If Israel had a death penalty, he probably would have gotten it. But because he didn’t, he is serving his time, paying his debt to society. He does not deserve any worse treatment than any other murderer serving his time, regardless of who he murdered.

What is truly shocking is the demand from the left that he be treated different. I wonder – had Amir murdered a Right-wing Prime Minister, do you think they would still make the same point? Somehow, I doubt it. If we're going to be liberal, let's at least be consistent.

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