Preventing while punishingJustice Minister Lee Kwi-nam revealed a few days ago that the death penalty and protective custody systems would be reviewed. Both are issues of heated social debate, and should be approached with caution.
International trends lean heavily toward the abolition of capital punishment, but the argument is still intense and in progress. In February 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that executions are constitutional. But the court also said the right to live is a basic human right, and recommended that the National Assembly review its position on capital punishment. The Constitutional Court’s decision can be interpreted as a recommendation to maintain the system, but implement it as cautiously as possible. Indeed, Korea is “a country that has abolished capital punishment in practice” because it has not enforced the death penalty since 1997.
There are arguments for and against capital punishment. It is a matter that should be decided based on the demands of the times and social agreement. In this respect, the justice minister’s statement feels a little rushed.
The protective custody system is another sensitive question. Protective custody was enacted in 1980 by the National Integrity Emergency Solution Committee and then abolished after democratization, in 2005, when it was determined that it constituted a double punishment in violation of the constitution. We do not believe Minister Lee intends to apply protective custody to all crimes: That would be a step back for human rights. However, if the system were limited to crimes of sexual assault, we believe it should be actively reviewed.
Sexual crimes are similar to certain mental illnesses, and sexual offenders are difficult to cure or reform, thus leading to a high rate of recidivism. Experts call a two-time sexual offender a “moving weapon” who needs to be permanently isolated. The United States reveals personal details of threatening criminals. Sweden, Denmark and Poland recommend chemical castration for rapists. In France, such criminals must be hospitalized for life or until a psychologist and judge conclude that “any chances of a repeat crime have completely disappeared.” A protective custody system that not only aims to isolate and reform sexual offenders but also treat them is worth introducing. Needless to say, detailed standards and operations are necessary.
Now is the time to undertake a comprehensive analysis of sex crimes from the perspectives of prison administration, the legal system and the social safety network. That sexual criminals often repeat their offenses as soon as they leave a prison built to reform them is the first problem. The sexual assault law should be revised so it prevents as much as it punishes.