Eating people is wrong?

The cannibal killer of Caerphilly, Matthew Williams, was shocked by police taser and died shortly thereafter. Whether he died of the shock by taser we do not yet know; but if he had lived no doubt he would by now have been in prison.

That, of course, would have been completely illogical. Had he not been released from prison only two weeks before he killed his victim, having served a five-year sentence for a previous attack on a woman? Does this not prove what everybody already knows, that prison does not work and that he had learned nothing during his period of imprisonment?

If he learned nothing the first time round – if, indeed, it really was the first time round, which is unlikely – what reason have we for thinking that he would learn something the second, or nth, time round? It follows, therefore, that he should not have been sent to prison, for it had already failed completely to rehabilitate him. Therefore he should have been set at liberty straight away.

Of course, rehabilitation takes time even when it occurs outside prison, and maybe he would have attacked one or two other women while doing a community sentence before he learned to ‘address his offending behaviour,’ as psychologists put it. But how much more humane this would have been than incarcerating him for years to no purpose! Did not the European Court of Human Rights rule recently that we all have a fundamental human right to remorse, repentance, rehabilitation, and forgiveness whatever the heinousness of our crime? Locking the late Mr Williams up for life would have deprived him of that fundamental human right.

Prisoners know this very well. As some of them used to protest when they had just been sentenced, ‘Prison’s no use to me, I don’t need prison! What I need is help!’ They would have given up burglary, or whatever their favourite crime was, ‘if only I had had the help.’

It is only right and just, then, that such as Mr Williams should not be deprived of the chance to demonstrate to society that they have undergone a radical change of heart and now appreciate what they never suspected before, namely that killing and eating people is wrong, and that they have learned that such behaviour causes distress all round – which they never meant to cause. Does not the well-known saying, that everyone deserves a second chance, capture in simple words what is or ought to be the whole moral basis of our penal policy?

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