Simon Jenkins at the Guardian tells us why jail won't work for Oscar Pistorius.
"Oscar Pistorius was guilty. However gripped by anger, it’s difficult to accept he didn’t know whom he was likely to kill. He had a violent history and his claim that he thought he was shooting a burglar stretches credulity."
That would make it murder. If you fire several shots at someone else, you are trying to kill them. However gripped by anger you are, if they're not trying to hurt you, that is murder. I would like to say that, if Simon Jenkins believes it was murder, then that on its own would be enough to discount everything else he has to say. I have a sneaking suspicion that, in Simon Jenkins' mind, it wouldn't.
"He killed his girlfriend"
He killed Reeva Steenkamp, two words not mentioned anywhere in this article. He killed a woman who happened to be his girlfriend. But she had her own life, dreams, experiences, name. She was not merely a being whose existence was dependent on that of a famous man.
"Given the leniency South African courts used to show towards white people killing black people, it is hard to see how the court could show leniency to a white person killing another white person."
Let's accept, for the sake of argument, that the verdict was correct. For recklessly shooting into a closed room, apparently heedless of who it was, five years would seem to be at the low end of a reasonable sentence - especially for a man who, I presume, has had his life genuinely ruined by losing the woman he presumably loved. I'm sure it has been ruined. I am also sure that a sentence that could result in him being out after 10 months is very lenient.
"Beyond the cause of consistency, imprisoning Pistorius can serve no purpose."
I wonder if such a fatuous, 6th-form-debating-society sentence could have been written in any other British paper. But let's go on.
"The purpose of depriving wrongdoers of their liberty, now that we no longer hang or flog, should be to rehabilitate them and, if not, keep them from further crime."
Rehabilitation and keeping felons from further crime are both good reasons to imprison people, although rehabilitation seems a fairly rare result. But on this basis, a seriously recalcitrant shoplifter should never be released. Actually, I met an old felon once who had spent his whole life, whenever released from pokey, immediately committing crime and, shortly afterwards, getting rearrested. I presume Simon Jenkins would never let him out. Personally, I certainly wouldn't. Getting out and having to go to all the trouble of getting caught again used to play havoc with the old bloke's routine.
But back to this case. Simon Jenkins has told us, in his first paragraph, that Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp because he was angry. If somebody is in the habit, when angry with his partner, of shooting her - doesn't this suggest some kind of education around the whole not-shooting-people-when-angry area might be useful? That, if we believed rehabilitation worked, then this is exactly the sort of thing the next 5 years might be useful for? And, if not, that if this man has a habit of shooting people when angry and can't be rehabilitated, well.... I refer you, on Simon Jenkins' logic, to my friend the geriatric burglar.
"That it should be “retributive”, a mere expression of society’s rage, is primitive theology. It is trotted out when no other reason for imprisonment can be imagined."
I can see nothing wrong with locking somebody up simply to punish them. If you have committed this kind of crime, you should be punished. It has fairness about it, and it expresses the revulsion that we ad human beings have for crime. It is not intrinsically fair, I reckon, to lock people up for different periods of time depending upon how malleable they are - or how malleable they can pretend to be. The taking of a life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - demands a price. The one who commits that crime should pay it.
And I don't see this as "primitive theology". It's the reaction, I suspect, of most non-Guardian-readers, and many that do read it, to the idea that a human life - such as Reeva Steenkamp's - is utterly precious - worth far more than just a bit of retraining would ever repay. Obviously we've not been as well-educated at keeping down primitive emotions as Simon Jenkins, but then other primitive emotions - love, fear, happiness - continue to work and be accepted as legitimate.
"Imprisonment is brutalism, reflecting society’s inability to police antisocial acts"
How on earth does he think society could police this manslaughter - or, if you prefer, "antisocial act"? Should there be a Guardian columnist, equipped with soothing words, in every bathroom?
"Men such as Pistorius have had their lives ruined, their failings exposed and chance enough to reflect on their crimes and what they can do to atone for them."
Women such as Reeva Steenkamp have had their lives taken away.
"No one will be more or less “deterred” by the length of his jail sentence."
Do you know, I reckon this. If, whenever women were hurt by men, the Law took it seriously, and the men got the sentences they deserved, then the sort of men who hurt women might actually be deterred from doing it. If we let people get away with culpable homicide, abuse or murder on the grounds that they won't learn anything from being locked up, then they probably won't.
Given the way it's written, I half-wonder whether the Guardian has just indulged in the most vile piece of click-bait trolling. In case anyone was wondering, the crime featured in the Guardian's puerile piece of adolescent argument had a victim. But don't expect Simon Jenkins to tell you who she was.