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Punishing Josef Fritzl
The injustice, or wisdom, of sending Austria’s rapist dad to a mental hospital
H

ow do you punish a man for locking up his daughter in a “squalid dungeon” for 24 years, raping her repeatedly, and making her bear seven children? asked Bojan Pancevski in Time. Austria sentenced such a man, Josef Fritzl, to life—or maybe only 15 years—in “an Alpine psychiatric unit,” with access to a gym and cooking classes. Many Austrians are “unsatisfied,” and embarrassed about the stain the whole Fritzl affair has left on their country.

Fritzl is unlikely to serve his whole sentence in a hospital, said psychiatrist Tim Kendall in Britain’s The Independent. If his new prison psychiatrists confirm the diagnosis that he’s “a very rare and very serious type of psychopath,” rather than merely afflicted with a mental illness such as schizophrenia, he should go to “a normal prison,” like the “evil” criminal he is.

Even life in prison “hardly seems like punishment enough,” said Susan Johnston in Lemondrop, for what Fritzl himself calls “my sick behavior.” But it’s a good place to start.

It’s probably for the best that Fritzl doesn’t face “a rope or a lethal injection,” said George Pitcher in Britain’s The Telegraph. Keeping him alive is an uncomfortable but important reminder that while he may be “evil,” he’s also a “chillingly ordinary” human being. It’s a “terrifying thought,” but one that might keep us vigilant to the darkness within us.

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