Thursday, March 05, 2009

Our prisons need reform - back to how they used to be

According to a report in The Telegraph, scores of criminals who have been released early from "life" sentences have gone on to commit further serious crimes in the last decade.

The offences include two murders, a suspected murder, one attempted murder, three rapes and two instances of grievous bodily harm.

Other offences committed by prisoners released on life licence include burglary, robbery, drugs and firearms offences, threats to kill, indecent assault and violence against the person.

Coming, as it does, on the revelation that many prisoners are openly posting pictures of themselves on Facebook, boasting and declaring that prison is like "a relaxing break" this should be causing a storm of protests.

The prison system - indeed, the whole criminal justice system - is there first and foremost to punish offenders for their crimes and protect the law abiding from those criminals committing further crimes. It doesn't appear to do either.

Prison is not about rehabilitation - anyone who really thinks that it is is a fool. It is supposed to be a deterrent. For most of us it is, but for many people it is actually better than being free. In prison they can have status, three meals a day, plenty of leisure time, activities and entertainment as well as cheap drugs to stupefy themselves.

Sure, there is an ever present risk of being stabbed or beaten up - but as they have that on the streets of our towns and cities anyway, what's the difference?

Prisons should be austere places of fear for criminals where they are deprived not just of their freedom, but also the niceties of everyday life. They should be places of fear for criminals where the only thing the first thing they learn is that being locked up is not something they want to go through again.

Life sentences should mean just that - life. That was the "promise" the government made when they took away the death sentence and they should either honour that promise or bring back hanging. Automatic early release should also be scrapped - it just makes a mockery of sentencing when everyone knows that whatever sentenced is passed will be automatically halved anyway.

It is a serious scandal that our prison and justice system is run this way. This government - as well as previous Tory governments - have repeatedly told us that they will be "tough on crime" - but they aren't. Until someone gets a proper grip of the whole thing - starting from the prisons up wards - things will never get better.

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