Some people believe it to be appalling that convicted criminals be allowed to personally benefit from their publications. Others have no problem with it at all. So when one is answering whether or not the convicted criminal should be allowed to benefit from their publications, the proper answer is “it depends.” It will depend on a number of factors that should be carefully considered.
Location of the Criminal
One may wonder if the location of the criminal at the time should have any bearing on whether the criminal should be allowed to profit from any publications the criminal has written, contributed to or was consulted with in any way by another author. If the criminal has served his or her time, should that criminal be able to profit from publication? Or should the convicted criminal still be barred from any such profits?
To gain a clearer picture, one may want to consider actual cases. In the 1950’s, two teenage girls were very close friends. When the parents of one girl announced they were moving out of the country, the second girl was infuriated that her mother would not allow her to move with the first girl’s family. The girls concocted a story in advance that would have made any crime story reader entranced in the story. The problem was it wasn’t a story. The two girls methodically planned to murder the second girl’s mother. They lured her out to a garden path to take a walk and asked her to pick up something that had dropped on the ground. The second girl took a brick from her purse and began brutally bludgeoning her mother in the back of the head and about the face. When she didn’t die immediately, the first girl took over. When they finally killed her, the girls ran screaming, with blood all over them that the woman had fallen and banged her head several times. Problem was, authorities found premeditated details of the planned murder in the second girl’s diary. As juveniles, both girls only served five years, and were told never to contact each other again. One of the girls changed her name, moved to another country and became a murder mystery writer.
In the U.K., word got out that Mary Bell, who murdered two small children had been paid for contributing to “Cries Unheard,” by Gitta Sereny. Should Mary Bell have been allowed to reap the proceeds of her contributions? In Connecticut, a group of 11 women who contributed to a book about their life in prison and their life before they went to prison were given approximately $6,000 each. Some had been convicted of serious crimes, including manslaughter. The women who were already released from prison were allowed to keep their profits. Should these women have been allowed to profit from the book and keep the proceeds? Was it fair that inmates who were still incarcerated were not permitted to receive the proceeds?
In cases where serious crimes have been committed, some inmates have taken the liberty to write about their crimes just as much as, if not more than, those convicted of lesser offenses. In the case of Mary Bell, the government of the U.K. decided to intervene. The Ministry of Justice took action to ensure that situations such as Mary Bell’s would not happen again. The Ministry of Justice took action so that in the event any prisoner wrote or contributed to any publication, the proceeds would be confiscated. The Impact Assessment of New Scheme to Prevent Convicted Criminals Profiting from Accounts of Their Crimes was implemented in 2008.
So should all inmates or former inmates be prevented from benefitting from proceeds of writing or contributing to any publications, or only those who committed more serious offenses? Should those released from prison be permitted to collect proceeds from participating in the publications? Some inmates have committed far less serious crimes or there are extenuating circumstances to those crimes. Should a mother who stole clothing because her children had no decent clothes or shoes to wear to school be prevented from profiting from any publications? Should the father who stole food so he could feed his family after losing his job be prevented from profiting from his book? One may wish to consider factors pertaining to the offenses and decide on a case-by-case basis whether a convicted criminal should be able to profit from proceeds of any contribution to publications.
Advocates for Convicted Criminals who Contribute to Publications
Most people have heard of incidents where inmates have published or created works of art and such works were available for sale. In fact, some publishers will knowingly publish the works of convicted criminals. For instance, for a small fee, Midnight Express Books only publishes books, stories and art of inmates and artists currently incarcerated. Perhaps state and federal prisons will want to consider the proceeds received by inmates when determining how said inmates may be able to pay fines, restitution or other financial penalties assessed at sentencing.
There are still unanswered questions regarding the legality of whether inmates or released convicted criminals should be allowed to receive such proceeds. Perhaps states and federal governments could come together and write better laws than the Son of Sam Statute regarding this matter, which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.