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Booth Hails Scottish Penal Reform (or Crime and (Lack Of) Punishment)

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Cherie Booth QC (Mrs. Tony Blair) has praised Scottish penal reform. MS. Booth chaired the Commission on English Prisons, in which she singled out aspects of Scotland’s prison system for praise.

The gist seems to be that short prison sentences don’t work, so don’t hand out short prison sentences. I agree. What I do not agree with is the conclusion that those who would have been dealt with by shorter sentences should be dealt with by using community punishments; unpaid work, tagging, probation and ASBO’s. The sort of ‘punishments’ criminals laugh at and see as nothing more than a minor intrusion into their lives- when they can be bothered to follow the orders.

I say give ’em longer sentences- and make sure the prisons are so uncomfortable most won’t want to go back.

I’m not suggesting we stop attempts to rehabilitate through education and training. But those that opt to train or learn should not see it as a soft option to working. Those that have no inclination to learn should be made to work and work hard. The work must be constructive- none of your rock breaking and moving rocks from one side of the yard for no other purpose than to make an inmate work hard.

The workshops to which prisoners are assigned or volunteer should be run on an industrial basis where the products can be sold at a profit, thus contributing to the costs of running the prison system. One might even consider paying a proper wage the bulk of which could be sent to families and thus remove the need to pay benefits.

Governments can use statistics to tell us prisons don’t work. They can produce statistics to show community sentencing reduces offending and re-offending. But statistics can be manipulated. (“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts’ for support rather than illumination.”-Andrew Lang (1844-1912)) Many of the people who make penal reform decisions are statistically less likely to be the victim of ‘low level’ crime. The sort of crime we or our friends and relatives and our communities become victims of every day. Most of the people I know are in agreement. Prisons should be harsher and sentences longer. Most of what I read and see in the media from ordinary folk is in agreement. Prisons should be a place to which offenders do not wish to return. In our presumed democracy (which is actually a plutocracy) why are the minority sitting on these quangos and our supposed representatives able to ignore the wishes of the majority and continue the liberalist policies of community sentencing?

We might see some change when MP’s and the wealthy are regularly the victims of burglary. When it is their sons who are meaninglessly attacked in the street and their daughters are assaulted.

Along with these proposed changes I believe there must also be a change of social and economic policy. While there will always be those who prefer to take rather than earn, we must ensure that ordinary people have well paid secure jobs. The balance should be quick, easy money with the risk of severe penalties and a real chance of being caught against a respectable well paid job with security. Most reasonable thinking people would choose the latter.

With these social and economic changes we should encourage employers to take on released prisoners if they have shown a commitment to change. Jobs to take when they leave prison not straight back on the dole, with the temptation to reoffend.

We need a complete rethink, accepting parts of the old penal system were reasonable and effective and that parts of the modern system are equally reasonable and effective. But neither system has a monopoly on effectiveness and we must accept that no system ever will. As with most things, we can only hope for the best penal system while we retain our humanity when dealing with those for whom we may temporarily wish to suspend that humanity and at the same time punish and rehabilitate effectively.


Written by Smiling Carcass

05/07/2009 at 1:22 PM

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