Life imprisonment: yes or no. This debate has briefly appeared on Spanish media in the last few days, after a young woman was murdered in Sevilla. The Spanish penal code does not consider life imprisonment for any type of crime.
Those against this type of sentence argue that the Spanish Constitution does not admin life imprisonment, but in fact the Constitution does not mention it at all. It is absolutely untrue that life imprisonment is incompatible with the Constitution. They argue that such sentence would be “degrading”, and this is not allowed by the Constitution. However, this is merely a matter of opinion: is a 30 or 40 year jail sentence “decent”? is life imprisonment “degrading”?. They can both be equally “decent” or “degrading”. The real problem is the Constitution’s and the penal code’s insistence on protecting and supporting criminals, rather than the society attacked by those criminals.
Laws should be primarily targeted at protecting society. Secondly, on a case by case basis, its target could be social rehabilitation of criminals. However, when the Spanish Constitution mentions liberty-curbing sentences, it only speaks about their social rehabilitation purpose, and fails to mention the protection of a society facing criminal individuals.
While the penal code continues exclusively focused on protecting criminals (as it does), we can forget about justice: Society and its individuals are not allowed to exercise self-defense, while the State (or nation) offers support and help to criminals (paid with tax money from society, by the way), and calls it a “sentence”.
The State must exist with one main objective, as expressed by Jefferson in his 1801 inaugural address:
“…a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement,…”
In order to avoid such injuries from occurring, the State must act in support of the injured party. That is, the offending party must see their liberties and rights restricted in a manner such that their actions may not entail new risks for other members of society. Such restriction may be temporary deprivation of liberty, life imprisonment, or even death penalty (as needed). Above all, the State ought to ensure that known criminals never injure society again. Social rehabilitation should be secondary. Regrettably, this is not the case in most of the western world’s penal systems.
Thanks to flimsy penal code in Spain, the killer of Marta del Castillo in Sevilla (if ever convicted) would be out of jail in a few years, posing a known threat to society. A campaign is underway to collect signatures and support to ask the Spanish Government to introduce life imprisonment in the penal code. I am absolutely certain that the Government will not listen to society, but it’s worth trying, to show there is strong demand for a stronger penal code.