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[Opinion] 10 Years in Prison

Posted October. 24, 2008 08:35,   


Courts rarely give a prison term of 10 years. This type of heavy punishment can be devastating to a person’s life. The penal code requires a 10-year sentence for treason, espionage, use of explosives, arson and murder. If other criminal charges are combined, the term can exceed 10 years. Only those convicted of severe crimes, such as the man who burned the national treasure Sungryemun, burglars who kidnapped women, a woman who killed her abusive husband, and repeat child molesters have been given 10 years in prison.

A young student’s post on a Web site said, “What do those serving more than 10 years in prison do? Do they just sit and do nothing? In movies, they play soccer, clean rooms…. Are they given a certificate? They have a place to sleep, eat and learn skills. Is that prison? It’s paradise. Many freeze to death in a subway station because they have no place to sleep and starve to death because of lack of money. Why is a place that is supposed to punish bad people so nice?”

It is quite understandable that young people feel confused about prison life as depicted in movies and TV. As entertainment describes life there with interesting plots, the young cannot imagine how painful 10 years in a cramped place can be. The corruption watchdog Transparency International Korea surveyed 1,100 middle and high school students on the anti-corruption perception index, finding distorted perceptions and confusion among the young. Nearly 18 percent said they could go to prison for 10 years for corruption in exchange for one billion won (710,000 U.S. dollars). How serious they are remains unknown, but this response is troubling.

Korea this year is ranked the 40th least corrupt country by Transparency International, three notches higher than last year. Yet, Korea is 22nd in the category among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This is a shame for the world’s 13th-largest economy. Corruption is not just about crime and punishment but also about national competitiveness and credit ratings. The term “corruption” stems from a Latin word meaning collapsing together. We must teach young people what corruption and 10 years in prison exactly mean.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo, sooya@donga.com