The European Court of Human Rights, beloved by some and despised by others, has decided that whole life prison sentences cannot be justified. The grand chamber has ruled that life in prison, without the possibility of being released, is something that is a violation of the human rights of the prisoners. This was a surprisingly overwhelmingly turn in the tale, considering both British Courts and the European Court, the first time round, decided that these sentences were ok.
The court has raised the interesting question of whether or not it is acceptable to chuck someone in jail forever. Is it ok that there are some people who are currently in prison face nothing else than the prospect that they will die there?
It is hard to think of spending your whole life behind bars, to know that this will be your whole world for a long, long time, and that freedom is something that is lost forever. Nobody would like that existence, and for the European Court, it seems that no one deserves it either. There should always, it seems, at least be the possibility of being let out.
Looking at the list of the people who are serving this sentence, however, is like reading a list of the people who you might think deserve it. There are people who have killed children, kidnapping them while they played outside their homes, and serial killers who killed out of habit. It is a directory of the people that the vast majority of people would not like to be in the same country as, let alone give freedom to.
They are people for whom a life in jail is not nearly justice, since they have committed crimes that have robbed those around them of so much more. At least in terms of human justice, and the crimes that have been committed against us, there is no real way that these people will ever be able to repay us for what they have done, even if they do spend the rest of their lives in jail.
So, we have a dilemma. Should we accept that everyone has the possibility to turn out to be a nice guy, and that if a person changes and repents while in jail, they should be freed? Or, should we take the route where we see these people as having given up their freedom, and that they can never be trusted in society again?
It is hard question, and either standpoint can be justified with enough mental debate and gut feelings. It is certainly something that I cannot categorically answer with conviction.
The only solution that my gut and conscience will let me get away with, and even then it is a close thing, is that we much accept whole life tariffs. I simply do not trust humans to decide whether or not these people have changed, especially considering some of these criminals escaped justice for so long because they were such good liars. We just can't take the risk.
In terms of mercy and compassion, two qualities that we need to use in every aspect of our lives, we can only say that we have given these criminals a chance by abolishing the death penalty. We have given them the opportunity to change, to make their peace with God, by allowing them some life, even if it is in a prison. They are allowed the possibility of change by the fact that they are still alive, and still able to make that choices.
If they do make their peace with God, then they will know that their captivity is only temporary.
The fact is, however, is that members of the British government have already started to attack the courts decision, and this could very easily be another situation when we just choose to ignore what the court has to say, just life when we ignored them telling us to give prisoners the vote.
The decision to not allow whole life tariffs may be one that is ignored, and that is something that the government should certainly consider doing.