Tuesday, April 10, 2012
A Basic Point
Any discussion about imprisonment, if it is to avoid the descent into blather, has to be rooted in some firm conceptual soil. Need I say, it just isn't?
Perhaps we should return to address the core issue - what is the purpose of imprisonment? Just what is it that society - including criminals and victims - wants to happen through the use of imprisonment?
Oh, I know there are the textbook responses to this question. Prison is meant to punish, to rehabilitate and act as a deterrent. We resolutely avoid the difficult issues, though, leaving prison as a dumping ground for the wasters as well as the wicked, a non-optional refuge for the dispossessed, the desperate and the mentally ill. If we designed the system from scratch, according to firmly rooted principles, I'm sure that we would not happily accept the result if it mirrored the present situation.
This is absurd, and an indictment on all of those who pipe up about prison in public but who wilfully shy away from grappling with harsh truths. The first, for me, is to accept that imprisonment often causes more social damage than the crime the prisoner committed.
Prison eagerly grasps the miscreant and locks him away from societies disinterested gaze. That is not contested or denied. What is deliberately avoided are the secondary consequences of this. The prisoner will lose his job. He may lose his home, his wife and his children. At the end of his sentence, having being stripped of all that brought meaning to his existence, he is then vomited back into a hostile society with a few quid and a plastic sack of belongings helpfully emblazoned "HM Prison Service".
Is this what we want or expect from the use of prison? If a judge stood in the dock and actually read out the full breadth of the consequences of a prison sentence, would we at last begin to wonder if that cost was disproportionate to the crime committed. And wonder if there was not some more sensible response to crime.
Labels: criminal justice