Monday, 28 September 2009

The quality of mercy is not strained

It was curious to hear Roman Polanski’s people this morning, lining up the arguments for his being released from arrest in Switzerland without being extradited to the States.

  • It’s been 32 years since the offence
  • He’s lived an apparently blameless life since, and contributed major films to society (at least, if you like his style of film)
  • The victim of the time is now saying the charges should be dropped
  • Polanski’s family suffered horribly, his mother lost in Auschwitz, his father a camp survivor. Polanski himself spent from 1943 (when he was ten) to the end of the war on the run
  • He lost his wife to the most brutal of murders in the Manson killings

All of this is perfectly true. It really ought to be taken into account. There is no value at all in Polanski spending time in gaol. Release him, I say.

But wouldn’t it be nice if we could be as generous towards a few more offenders? And let’s not forget Polanski is an offender: he did plead guilty.

Last weekend it was revealed that there are more former British soldiers in prison than there are present British soldiers serving in Afghanistan. We have a full-scale army of convicts.

It feels to me that the move against Polanski reflects something pretty wrong about our attitudes, but as the British prisons show, it is a problem of society generally and not just of one celebrity film director. If the case became the occasion to review the general problem of our attitude towards retribution, towards handling people who have been hurt far more badly than anyone ever should be, towards rehabilitating offenders, Polanski would have made a contribution to society at least as great as any of his films.

Some might say greater, but I’m not getting into a discussion of cinematic taste here.

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