Horrifying stories about the rapes and murders of children, and about judges who go easy on sex offenders who prey on the young, have prompted some state legislatures to tighten up the laws and restrict the sentencing discretion of judges.
Few in the media or among the intelligentsia have been as outraged about these sadistic crimes against children as they have been about whether terrorists' phone calls have been intercepted.
Part of this is current politics but part of it is the continuation of a tradition that goes back more than two centuries, de-emphasizing the punishment of criminals.
People who today point to the flaws of "society" as the "root causes" of crime are echoing what was said in the 18th century by Condorcet in France and William Godwin in England, among others.
So are those who speak loftily of "alternatives to incarceration" or who continue to rely on hopes of "rehabilitation" or "prevention."
People with this mindset engage in much hand-wringing about what to do with sexual predators. While many ordinary people would say that they should be locked up -- and, if they are too dangerous to be at large, we should lock them up and throw away the key.
But those whose whole sense of themselves is based on their presumed superiority to ordinary people can never go along with such ideas. They balk even at notifying the public when some convicted sexual predator is released into their neighborhood.
Their thinking -- if it can be called that -- is that sexual predators who have been released from prison have "paid their debt to society" and so the slate should be wiped clean and these sadists allowed to hide their past.
It is amazing how many innocent young lives have been sacrificed for a half-baked phrase.
Going to jail doesn't repay anything. People are put behind bars as punishment and to keep them out of circulation. Child victims of rape and murder cannot be made whole. The debt can never be repaid.
The most we can hope for is to spare other children and their parents from the anguish inflicted by evil people -- not "sick" people, but evil people. Sexual predators know exactly what they are doing, know that it is wrong, and either don't care or enjoy it all the more for that reason.
Saying that they are "sick" implies that there is some treatment or cure that other people can apply to them. How many more lives are we prepared to sacrifice on the altar to that notion?
The illusion of being able to control sexual predators who are set loose in secrecy among families with children has taken many forms and has been couched in much soothing rhetoric.