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Arts and Entertainment

John Grisham Says We're Too Harsh On People Watching Child Porn

John Grisham (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
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Best-selling author John Grisham, known for his legal thrillers-turned-movies like The Firm and The Pelican Brief, apologized after telling The Telegraph that although he has "no sympathy for real pedophiles" and believes they should be locked up, he thinks "so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences."Grisham says we've "gone nuts" imprisoning people over the past 30 years. He said in the interview:

"We've got prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old white men, in prison, who have never harmed anyone. Who would never touch a child, but they got online one night, started surfing around, probably had too much to drink whatever and pushed the wrong buttons, and went to far and went into child porn or whatever." "It happened to a lawyer friend of mine, a good buddy from law school. They haven't hurt anyone. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but ten years in prison?

He went into detail about the situation surrounding his friend from law school and defended him:
"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labeled '16-year-old wannabe hookers' or something like that'. ... So he went there. Downloaded some stuff — it was 16-year-old girls who looked 30. He shouldn't have done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And, God, a week later there was a knock on the door: 'FBI!' and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people — sex offenders — and he went to prison for three years."

There were some folks who took to Twitter to express their anger with Grisham's comments. One person tweeted: "If less people (mostly men) clicked on & downloaded it, there would be less children abused. You’re a fool @JohnGrisham wake up to yourself."

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Grisham wrote an apology on his website today:

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.

On some of his points, Grisham isn't a lone wolf. Sentencing has changed quite a bit over the last couple decades, and legal experts question whether our current sentencing guidelines make sense in the age of the internet, which has made child pornography much more prevalent. Until the mid-90s, it wasn't a priority for federal law enforcement and it was easier to track down the trading of child pornography books. The New Yorker reported in 2013 that the length of federal sentences for possessing or distributing child pornography increased by more than 500 percent over the past 15 years. On average, that sentence is about 119 months, which is on the same level as actual sex abuse crimes. TIME called it the "one-size-fits-all approach to punishment."

U.S. Sentencing Commission Judge Patti Saris said in a report in 2013 that the internet has made sentencing a much more complicated issue: "Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child-pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines."

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