Big Man on Commercial Novelist Campus John Grisham has told a London newspaper that he is concerned about America's jails. Specifically, he is worried that they are becoming stuffed with old white men, which he seems to have defined primarily as friends of his who, in his view, innocently enjoy underage porn.
The video on the Telegraph piece this morning is something you should watch for yourself, because it is always and forever amusing to watch people make absolute asses of themselves when they think they are being thoughtful.
For those who cannot watch, here are the full remarks, transcribed:
We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child. But they got online one night, started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far, and got into child porn, whatever.
It happened to a friend of mine from law school. They haven't hurt anybody, ok? They deserve some type of punishment, whatever. But ten years in prison? And there's so many of them no, so many sex offenders, that they put them in the same prison, like they're a bunch of perverts or something. Thousands of them. We've gone nuts with this incarceration.
I have no sympathy for real pedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that's what they're getting.
A friend of mine, this was ten years ago, was drinking. His drinking was out of control. And he went to a website—it was labeled, 16-year-old, you know, wannabe hookers, or something, some stupid website. And it said, 16-year-old girls. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff. It was 16-year-old girls who looked 30. You know, they were all dressed up and whatever, and he was whatever. He shouldn't have done it, it was stupid. But it wasn't 10-year-old boys and he didn't touch anything. And golly, a week later there was a knock on the door. FBI. And it was a sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people—sex offenders. And he went to prison for three years.
This is some pretty ill-advised and unintelligent stuff. In fact, there is a fifty-car pileup of whoppers hanging out in here: Grisham's belief that "no one is hurt" by 60-year-old white men providing an eager and willing audience for child pornography, few drinks or no; the idea that the pornography in question is somehow rescuable because it did not depict "10-year-old boys"; that "wannabe hookers" is a description he should himself repeat to characterize the content of child-porn-purveying websites.
But honestly, who cares if John Grisham makes an ass of himself? No one, really. What's more troubling here is that he's mucking up the cause against mass incarceration. The Telegraph reports that he made some kind of throwaway remark about "black teenagers on minor drugs charges" before launching into a child-porn-viewers-rights crusade. Which just goes to show what an idiot he is, and that someone close to him should send him a copy of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The thesis Alexander advances in that book, and which most intelligent commentators on prisons in America now accept, is that the rise of incarceration was a direct result of the War on Drugs and the subsequent race to implement harsher and harsher sentencing laws. Take a look, for example, at this graph prepared by The Sentencing Project:
Note that the slope of the graph starts to get steeper right around the early 1980s. All that effort by Nancy Reagan in those "Just Say No" commercials, and yet Americans continued to use drugs. And now we have a system where the prison population has grown, again according to the Sentencing Project, by 500% in 30 years.
Something is indeed up with mass incarceration in America—Grisham is not wrong about that. But his self-absorbed concern for himself and his child-porn trolling friends does the cause he claims to want to serve a staggering disservice.
Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.
I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.