Reporting in the NYTimes, A.G. Sulzberger quotes Judge Weinstein explaining what not even the most liberal elected politician today is likely to acknowledge.
“I don’t approve of child pornography, obviously,” he said in an interview this week. But, he also said, he does not believe that those who view the images, as opposed to producing or selling them, present a threat to children.
“We’re destroying lives unnecessarily,” he said. “At the most, they should be receiving treatment and supervision.”
No doubt, a market for child pornography may in fact create economic incentives to further exploit children to produce it; a risk that government may address. What the judge is suggesting is that a willingness to address that problem with inflexible and punitive criminal laws aimed at the consumer shows a remarkable indifference to notion of individual guilt (or culpability in the language of jurisprudence).
As Sulzberger's reporting suggests, this is not a rare occurrence.
The child pornography industry has flourished through the Internet; the number of federal cases grew from fewer than 100 annually to more than 1,600 last year. As the number grew, Congress increased the recommended prison terms and established a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for anyone convicted of receiving child pornography. According to the federal defenders’ office, the average sentence was 91 months in 2007, up from 21 months a decade before.
We can defend our children without this kind of unnecessary destruction of life. Cruelty of the law indeed.