Two occurrences last week brought light to the (already visible) futility of the country’s approach to the punishment (or not) of those who break the law.
Firstly, Birmingham Prison was taken over by the government due to the ‘appalling violence and squalor’ within its walls, meaning ‘prisoners rather than staff appeared to be controlling the wings’ (according to its Independent Monitering Board, The Times, 20.08.2018).
Secondly, the Mail (22.08.2018) released an investigation which covered punishments given out by numerous courts across the country, showing that many (despite sometimes having over thirty previous convictions) are not sent to prison despite having (again) committed an horrific crime.
Stephen Wright, who led the investigation, describes how one man ‘with 38 previous convictions – who broke an innocent man’s jaw in an unprovoked street attack’ was spared any serious punishment as ‘a judge opted not to send him to jail’.
Might these two stories have some kind of connection? Is it not clear that refusing to punish those with countless previous convictions by sending them prison will simply turn them into hardened criminals who, when they are finally sent to prison, there is no chance of changing back into law-obiding subjects.
Is it not also clear that the reason prisons (like Birmingham prison) are controlled by their inmates rather than by their staff is because those who are (finally) sent there are, as has been said, hardened criminals who cannot be controlled themselves as they reject any form of authority.
Unfortunately, none of this is clear to those in power who long ago abandoned the criminal justice system’s most valuable tool – deterrence.
If the criminal justice system again took its role seriously and these criminals were sent to prison after committing (say) two offences, rather than 38, we would find that the number of people going to prison would actually decrease, not increase, as those who now have no fear of our invisible police force (read here) and indeed no fear of being sent to prison (in other words, no fear of being punished) would find that their actions do actually have consequences. Prisons too, being inhibited by far fewer hardened criminals, would be far safer for the inmates and staff alike.
As author and journalist Peter Hitchens pointed out on Sunday,
‘In 1961, when England and Wales still had serious punitive prisons, we retained the death penalty for heinous murder, we had a patrolling police force and a population not much smaller than it is now, there were 27,000 people in prison. Now there are more than 80,000. But that is not a fair comparison.
‘If we had the laws and rules of 1961, and the crimes of today, we would probably need the entire Isle of Wight to house convicted prisoners. Instead, thousands of people who would have been doing proper porridge in 1961 roam free, frightening you and me, and not fearing authority. And because they don’t fear authority, nobody else does either, and the number of criminals grows far faster than we can build new jails.’
Unless the criminal justice system again takes its role of deterring crime seriously, matters shall only get worse.
More of my writing on law and order in Britain can be found below: