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January 16, 2009

"Is it possible to feel sympathy in a child porn case?"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting commentary piece in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about an older defendant sentenced to 90 month in federal prison because of downloading child porn.  Here is a interesting snippet:

[P]eople who view this stuff generally get more time than the people who molest children.  That's because in a child-molestation case, the witness is the child, and most parents are reluctant to put the child through the additional trauma of a trial.  So if there is a plea agreement, the advantage is to the defense.  In a child porn case, the images themselves are the evidence, and no defendant wants the jury to see this stuff.  The advantage is to the prosecution, and the resultant plea agreements reflect the draconian nature of the laws.  Possession of child pornography carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Why so harsh?  It's a one-way argument.  What legislator is going to argue for lightening the penalties for possession of child pornography?

Some related recent federal child porn prosecution and sentencing posts:

January 16, 2009 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

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The Bureau of Prisons maintains its Sexual Offender Treatment Program as a Unit inside the medium security prison(F.C.I.)in Butner, North Carolina. It also appears that the Low Security Prison in Ashland, Kentucky (about 75 years old) is in the process of being converted by the B.O.P. to an all pedophiles/child porn viewers prison, which will probably also have a S.O.T.P. The B.O.P. is following the example of Ohio, which built a separate prison for pedophhiles and child porn inmates, because they are highly susceptable to being beaten up and injured when housed with other kinds of inamtes. The prison authorities will save the cost of the medical care and failure to rpotect lawsuits by hosuing them separately, since pedophiles don't assault one another because of the kind of crimes they have committed. Both pedophiles and inmates who have downloaded child pornography a treated in the Butner S.O.T.P. program, which has fewer than 100 beds. While they are waiting for bed space in the S.O.T.P. to open up, several hundred pedophiles and child porn downloaders are housed across the street at the Low Security Prison (L.S.C.I.-Butner), mixed in with other kinds of inmates. When I was an inmate at L.S.C.I.-Butner in 2000 (white collar convictions), I got to meet some of those men and learn about them from the prison psychologists. I was surprised to learn that about 2/3 to 3/4 of all sex offenders, both pedophiles and child porn viewers, were sexually abused themselves as children (frequently by members of their own families). They have been conditioned to believe that this is acceptable, "normal" behavior, because someone did it to them when they were children. Thus, many who commit some of the crimes that society considers most heinous (worse than murder), have themselves been victims of those same kinds of crimes when they were children! Once I learned this, I began to look at those men in a different light and feel sorry for them. The problem for society is that even modern psychology hasn't found a way to completely repair the damage and "fix" them, so that they won't go back out and commit the same kinds of crimes again following their release from prison, even with S.O.T.P. Even if they were victims as children, never -theless, society must be protected from them. They are like modern day lepers, and must, perhaps, live separately and apart from mainstream society in colonies (but not necessarily in traditional prisons). It is amazing how a little knowledge and insight can change one's perspective, even on sex offenders. Legislators should re-examine some of those laws, and consider a different policy approach.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Jan 16, 2009 2:45:15 PM

Frankly, I am much more cynical than the writer of the opinion piece. I do feel sorry for people who are caught with child porn. It's not because I think that what they do is right but because I think they are caught up in a system that is designed to produce this type of criminal. The law, like drug laws, are really not designed to stop child abuse. They are designed to catch people who are easy to catch, so we can feed the prison industrial complex, make the police look good, and a make whole host of people to feel self-righteous.

I do agree with the writer that it harder to stop the production of child porn. But that should spur us to try harder, not drop back and pick off the easy prey. I'll be much less tolerant of child porn viewers when I see 75% of the money being spent on catching the producers and not the other way around.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 16, 2009 2:48:54 PM

I wonder how often defense counsel seek to put on a mitigation case at sentencing detailing the abuse suffered by the defendant as a child? While not excusing defendants' acts, such evidence might provide a means of humanizing defendants (both individually and as a class) in the view of the court. (In this way, it would be similar to mitigation cases put on in capital trials.)

Among other hurdles for defense counsel, of course, would be convincing the client to (a) confide in counsel or counsel's investigator what are most likely deep, shameful secrets that he and abuser have conspired for decades to hide; and (b) allow counsel to expose those shameful secrets in open court.

Posted by: Observer | Jan 16, 2009 3:29:16 PM

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