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Editorial - Battling crime with film

June 06, 1997

For some years now, The Herald-Mail has advocated an approach to criminal justice that would allow first offenders to see how they might end up, if their behavior doesn't change.

For example, we believe men who've been served with protective orders for abusing spouses or girlfriends should have to visit a prison and meet inmates who've allowed their violent impulses to turn them into murderers. Perhaps if they saw the tragic end of someone else's story, abusers might be able to prevent the same thing from happening in their lives.

To our knowledge, no such program exists, but a Bucks County, Pa. judge last week decided to do something similar, opting to educate some young criminals instead of jailing them.

The youths in question did their crime last Dec. 8, on the third night of Hanukkah, breaking out Martin Markovitz's living room window and knocking over the family's electric Menorah, a symbol of the Jewish holiday.

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Anti-semitism has been ruled out as the motive for the crime, but the Jewish community in Newtown Township, Pa. said the incident created a lot of fear among their members.

Judge Kenneth Biehn agreed, telling the youths he wanted them to understand the sort of fear that Jewish persons would experience if they were being targeted by an unknown force.

Such a lesson might be tough to deliver to the sort of young toughs whose preferred activity (until now) has been prowling the streets at night. And so Judge Biehn turned to Hollywood's Steven Spielberg for help.

The youths were ordered to watch Spielberg's "Schindler's List," a film that deals with one German businessman's rescue of many Jewish persons from the Nazi Holocaust. After the defendants view the film, the judge said they must then write an essay on anti-semitism that must describe how the Markovitz family must have felt during and after the incident.

A great idea, which gives us another thought. If police can't take spousal abusers to prisons for a look at what awaits them, why not do a documentary with some convicted wife killers? If seeing it deters one man from taking a life, it would be worth it.

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