trust – tolerance – self-sufficiency
Catching criminals is pointless if they are given fines which they can neglect to pay, or given derisory terms in jail where they can meet and learn from other criminals and become drug addicts if they are not already, thereby ensuring that on release they are both more likely to re-offend and be better at it. Given the complete lack of focus in what is expected of the prison system its constant failure is inevitable. Until it is reformed, building more prisons, apart from turning the country into a prison island, a Gulag, will be throwing good money after bad – as ever, our money.
What do victims and society gain when criminals are imprisoned? Nothing. There is a brief respite from their activities but as the great majority re-offend very soon after release there is no long-term benefit. Worse, after having suffered financial loss at the hands of these people, we have our taxes increased to keep them locked up, doing nothing – a double burden.
The prison system should provide the following in order of importance:
- Protection. Some people have to be taken out of normal society for our protection – they are few in number and relatively easily identified and dealt with.
- Reparation. This will be difficult but it is crucial. Criminals should know for a certainty that when they commit an offence they will literally have to pay for it in full – including the cost of the investigation and trail – by cash or useful work – in prison, or out of it. Systems could be established whereby businesses could notify the Prison Service of any labour needs. For less serious crimes, the principle of bespoke sentencing appropriate to the individual crime should become the norm and there must be an end to the practice of writing off ‘uncollectable’ fines. All this will require new and imaginative thinking, but that is no excuse for continuing to blunder along helplessly and hopelessly as at present.
- Rehabilitation. Where mental health has been a factor in the commission of a crime, this should be properly treated. Basic literacy and numeracy should be a condition for release and appropriate teaching must be available for those prisoners who need it. Good behaviour in prison should be the expected norm, not something to be specially rewarded, and bad behaviour should be punished by increased sentences. It is quite possible that such a regime and the need to work to pay off the harm they have done will have a considerable rehabilitating effect in its own right.
HELP AND INFORMATION WANTED
- Details of the number of people in jail, the annual cost of this and the rate of re-offending.
- Any further ideas for work that can be given to prisoners.