UPDATE: Grisham released the following statement via his website on Thursday.
Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography—online or otherwise—should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
My comments made two days ago during an interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable.
I regret having made these comments, and apologize to all.
Top-selling novelist John Grisham says people who look at child pornography "probably had too much to drink" and should be given lighter prison sentences. Grisham, 59, criticised the length of imprisonment imposed on offenders who download images of children being sexually abused.
He also revealed that one of his "good buddies" had been caught in a child porn sting. The writer made the controversial comments during an interview in which he blasted the American justice system and high number of serving convicts. "We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," he told the Telegraph.
"But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn." Grisham said "too many people" are being locked up for crimes such as minor drugs charges, child porn offences and white collar crime.
He added that America's judges had "gone crazy" during the last 30 years. The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time To Kill, who has sold more than 275 million books during his 25-year career, added that his "good buddy from law school" was jailed for three years for viewing child porn in Canada.
He said the site was labelled "sixteen-year-old wannabe hookers" and that his friend's drinking was "out of control" at the time. Grisham said America has "gone nuts" on incarceration and criticised the number of people who are prosecuted as sex offenders.
He added: "I have no sympathy for real paedophiles. God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that's what they're getting." Asked about the fact that viewing child porn fuels abuse of youngsters to create the images, Grisham replied that sentences should still be lower for people who only download the content.