You can't get away with murder if you work for the Utah State Prison system - but you can probably get away with pornography.

That is the lesson derived from a bizarre plea-bargaining arrangement that resulted in Scott McAlister, former inspector general for the Utah Department of Corrections, being sentenced to seven days in the Salt Lake County Jail.No prison term. No fine. No probation.

That's what we call in our culture a "slap on the wrist."

McAlister pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of distribution of pornographic material, a class A misdemeanor. Judge David Young could have imposed a one-year jail sentence and a fine of $2,500. Instead, he followed the advice of prosecutors, who recommended the minimum sentence.

What did Scott McAlister do?

He brought to Utah at least 30 and possibly hundreds of hard-core pornographic films, depicting graphic sexual acts among children. They had such intriguing titles as "Young Arabian Nights" and "Pre-Teen Sex."

Federal statutes prohibit transportation and distribution of pornography, and penalties are usually toughest for obscene material involving children.

Why did McAlister have them?

As an assistant attorney general in Oregon, he had access to the films as evidence in a 1977 case, then "inadvertently" brought them with him when he moved to Utah in January 1989.

What did he do with the evidence when he got here?

He gave them to women employees in an effort to persuade them to participate in group sex.

That charge resulted in a $95,000 out-of-court settlement award to Linda Dreitzler, who filed a suit claiming she was sexually harassed by McAlister. Because Dreitzler rejected McAlister's advances, she was demoted, transferred and eventually dismissed. Her continued employment was allegedly based on her willingness to buy a house with McAlister and another woman for "a three-way sexual relationship."

So McAlister resigned last December, weary of rumors about his job performance and allegations of sexual harassment. Then he moved to Arizona. His public reputation suffered. That, according to Bud Ellett, chief of the justice division of the county attorney's office, is "enough punishment."

Authorities were concerned that McAlister would "be incarcerated with convicts he may have encountered at the prison." Besides, he admitted that he made a "mistake," so his punishment "serves justice to our community and to him," said Ellett.

I don't mean to sound unreasonable, but it seems to me that McAlister deserved more than a slap on the wrist.

The mistake he made, after all, was no ordinary mistake. Not the kind of mistake most of the rest of us would make anyway. This was a mistake that required a lot of thought and planning.

It was also a slimy, rotten mistake.

Someone employed by the prison system should be above reproach. Someone who has had a hand in running prisons finding himself IN prison is a symbolic tragedy. But we should not get so carried away in the tragedy that we waive the punishment.

Giving him seven days and then sending him home because he has "suffered enough" is unbelievable.

Here are the negative things the McAlister case teaches me:

- "Borrowing" evidence is allowable for people employed in the criminal justice system.

- Pornography, even if it is hard core, is not so bad after all.

- Using pornography to exploit women is embarrassing, but certainly not criminal behavior.

- Transporting and distributing pornography may seem like a serious crime, but it's just a "mistake."

- If a person works in the Department of Corrections, his sins will be forgiven.

This entire case is a mistake.