Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Prison: They just don't get it!

Yet another commentator has come out and said that prison isn't the answer to crime - youth crime, on this occasion.

[Prison] is making things worse. To use it as a first resort is the easiest and most useless of all options: it simply breeds the next generation of criminals. This across-the-board consensus comes not from social workers or well-intentioned reformers but from those tackling crime on the front line - the police and the judges.

Where to start with this? OK, let's start with the prisons themselves. Thanks to the proliferation of "human rights" laws and the curse of political correctness, prisons are not run by the authorities. Of course they are nominally, but everyone knows that inside the prisons they are run by a hard core of prisoners who have far more authority than any prison governor or warder. That is because the prisoners themselves aren't tied up with petty bureaucracy and a myriad of regulations they have to wade through if they so much as want to talk to a prisoner for any reason.

As a result, prisoners are left locked inside their multi occupancy cells for most of the day with little or no supervision of what they get up to. Hardly surprising then that the prisoners turn to drugs to numb the dullness of their days. If they were out in the fresh air in chain gangs digging drainage ditches or picking strawberries (properly supervised of course) at the local fruit farm they'd be far less inclined to resort to illegal drugs.

Secondly, far too many "young offenders institutes" are mirror images of adult prisons - the only difference being that the hard core has a younger average age.

The next point I'd like to make is that prison should NOT be about rehabilitation. That isn't the point of prison and never was. That doesn't mean it isn't important to do something to rehabilitate offenders, just that prison is not the place to start.

Here is John Carnochan, head of the Violence Reduction Unit at Strathclyde Police, where knife crime is more than three times higher than in the rest of the UK: “It is a truism that putting people in jail doesn't work,” he says. “It may make the rest of us feel better, but it was never intended to solve the problem, nor does it.”

He's almost right - but putting someone in prison does work exactly how it is supposed to. It means that that person can not commit more crime on the law abiding person for the duration of their stay in prison and that is the whole point of prison. Prison was never intended to solve crime, it was only intended to punish criminals by taking away their liberty. It's secondary purpose was to make us feel better - which he admits it does - because by punishing the criminal appropriately we feel that justice has been served.

I agree that prison should not be the first option for young criminals. Virtually everyone agrees that what young criminals lack is structure and discipline in their lives. That is why a lot of them are attracted by gangs as they have a hierarchy and structure which seems attractive to disaffected "yoof". In my view these young offenders should be enrolled into a "National Service" for a period of between 8 weeks and 2 years (depending on the offence or their record). They'd be kept in a camp, supervised by ex-servicemen, trained, drilled, taught skills, disciplined and set to work on various duties. They'd receive a modest weekly pay - minus deductions for their keep - and be able to earn rewards as well as be given additional punishments for transgressions.

We all know that prison does not solve crime - that was never the point of it - but it does work in doing what it is supposed to do. Keeping the law abiding majority out of the reach of the criminal for a period of time.

Crime can not be "solved". There will always be someone, somewhere willing to take the chance to gain an advantage in some way through criminal activity. But if you are going to reduce crime then locking offenders away is a pretty good start.

Better still would be to actually start realising that the explosion in crime is the result of family breakdown and the collapse of moral standards which has been actively pursued by the liberal intelligentsia for 50 years. That is easy to solve, but no one is even willing to admit it as the cause of the problem in the first place.

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