Culture

John Grisham speaks out against extended sentences for child-pornography

The best-selling author of such classic legal thrillers as The Pelican Brief, A Time to Kill, and The Firm, has a few opinions on child-pornography prison-terms that are sure to upset a few people.

In a recent interview, John Grisham spoke-out about the increasingly long prison-terms that individuals face when convicted of watching child-pornography, saying that the prison system has “gone nuts.”

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age — 60-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” Grisham said in the interview. Grisham went on to say that there are too many men in prison who “got online one night” and “probably had too much to drink” to find themselves on a child-pornography website. He also stated that this was a crime that a friend of his had committed in the past. This friend, who remained nameless, Grisham knew from law school, was convicted and sentenced to prison for downloading child pornography.

The interview was with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, and Grisham spoke about the American criminal-justice system in general. “These are people who haven’t hurt anybody. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but 10 years in prison?” Grisham asked.

It should be expressed that Grisham did not defend child-pornography, or try to excuse the act. Grisham went as far to say that he had “no sympathy” for those that commit the felony. “God, please lock those people up,” he said in the interview. “But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, but that’s what they get.” Grisham is also making a clear distinction between those that create and distribute child-pornography, and someone who simply views it.

Although controversial, the idea that child-pornography laws need to updated to fit the digital-age isn’t new, it’s actually a widely discussed topic. Just last year the U.S. Sentencing Commission began a review of the sentencing policy included in child pornography cases. “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child-pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines,” the commission’s chair Judge Patti Saris said during proceedings.