Sunday, October 11, 2009

If You Can't do the Time...

As a response to any comment from a prisoner, the statement, 'if you can't do the time, don't do the crime' is my favourite.

I love it so much because it reveals that the light in the eyes of the person saying it isn't generated by the intellect behind the eyeballs; it is a reflection from the strip-lighting.

Any exchange around criminal justice is littered with these banal, trite and plain moronic sound-bites. They are the warning signs that public debate and education is in a perilous state. Let us unpack this one, shall we, and explore the depths of its vacuousness.

"If you can't do the time..." assumes that criminals make a wonderfully calculated decision to offend, weighing up the pros-and cons before embarking on whichever course of wickedness catches their attention.

Um, doh! Criminality just isn't like that. Contrary to popular belief, criminals are humans and humans make decisions on a range of factors - and none at all. A heroin addict looking for the next tenner is not a perfect calculating machine. So we can extract that piece of stupidity from the "if you can't do the time..." statement.

More importantly, it assumes a prior knowledge of the 'pains of imprisonment'. Without that understanding, then no meaningful calculation is possible. And even those who have been to prison before are wrong-footed, as prisons change.

So, if the very best contribution that your intellect has to offer to the debate is, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime", then feel free to think twice - and still say nothing at all. Please. For the sake of the rest of us, I beg you.


  1. Okay, need to be careful how to phrase this as I don't want to come out sounding like some draconian 'string-'em-up' caricature... but while the phrase 'if you can't do the time don't do the crime' may be facile and trite, I think that the way in which you've interpreted it is also somewhat simplistic.

    It's a little rhyming couplet, and presumably is not any more meant to represent the accurate sentiment and overall thought patterns of the user than 'he who smelt it dealt it'.

    While I accept what you're saying about criminal decision making - generally it's more about punishment than deterrent because people don't commit crime (or at least very often) with the anticipation of being caught - you're assuming that the remark means this is precisely what these people believe.

    One possible interpretation you've missed is that certain people who see others in prison complaining about the conditions (whatsoever they may be) are pretty much saying, "look mate, it's your own fault that your in prison; don't whinge about it".

    I'm not saying that this is a view to which I necessarily subscribe: I am in favour of people (particularly repeat or violent offenders, or those exploiting the vulnerable) being locked away from society, but I also think they ought to be treated with at least a modicum of decency while they are there...

  2. We all know not to do certain things because they have consequences. I know that if I drive too fast, I may incur a penalty. If I park incorrectly or overstay then I will again be penalised. If I drink to excess and commit an offence then I should not have drunk to excess so should be punished. Alcohol and drugs may be a reason for why people commit offences but they should not excuse the punishment nor the choices individuals make.

    I understand from the press that the number of places available to deal with addictions have increased dramatically. So choices are still made. Do I remain on drugs and risk imprisonment or do I accept help?

    In order for us all to coexist in society, we have to accept personal responsibility. Most prisoners are not stupid and know this. Many adults calculate the risk is worth it. Research indicates the number of offences committed before being detected. Many young people know how much they can get away with before community penalties are exhausted and custody is given.

    I am liberal regarding transgression and believe that all human beings make mistakes. I believe too that there is good in every person and most people can be rehabilitated with the exception of the few people we read about who one could call evil. Those people should never be released.

    I share the comment above regarding "whinging". I suppose it is inevitable within any institution. The powerlessness of individuals, the amount of time they have on their hands and petty infringements can influence such behaviour. We have been bombarded recently about the prison service abusing rights of prisoners - mostly administrative in nature. We know how much is being paid to individuals by the taxpayer. All of this press means that the public are totally unsympathetic to the world of a prisoner. Add to that some commentators writing about personal TV's, regular meals, education etc etc and prisoner's lives are believed to be pretty good. Readers of the red tops want bread and porridge and hard labour. If a poll was taken tomorrow, I think the majority of people would state a belief in the concept...if you cannot serve the time.....

    Yes the comment is trite. Lets just say that if I am not deemed to be mentally unfit to plead to a criminal offence, then I like everyone else in society have to accept personal responsibility for my actions. That is it. That does not detract from people learning from their mistakes and not repeating them. We have to negotiate this in all areas of our lives - employment, relationships, etc etc. If I behave irresponsibly, I could go to prison. If I am irresponsible in my job, I am sacked. If I am irresponsible in my relationship, I could be divorced. The list is never ending. Prisoners do not have the monopoly on this....

  3. I have always agreed with the rhyme, but it is good to hear a view from the other side of the bars. However, what is the percentage of people inside who fall into the “made a wrong choice” category and what percentage are toe rags who would have been better aborted as a foetus. If it pans out most is in the latter category then the rhyme stands for the most part.
    Looking at your other blogs, failing health treatment, poor food, yada yada, in the “if only I was in charge” world there would be two sorts of prisons. The first type of prison for first time custodial sentences, where lots of resources are thrown at the offender, money no object, education, post release relocation, and further assistance. The second prison for repeat offenders involves rock breaking and chain gangs, all visitors will be the other side of a glass window talking through a phone like the U.S. old style prisons, rehabilitation did not work so we will keep offenders off the streets. All repeat offenders are only eligible for parole after 90% serving of a sentence (none of this 50% rubbish we have today) plus serving any remaining sentence from the previous incarceration if paroled before. Subsequent sentences also include a 10% sentence increase, so 2nd time 10% 3rd time 20% etc. Poor old heroin addicts on their 2nd sentence will be denied heroine and methadone, a few weeks cold turkey in isolation should get rid of the addiction. We are actually doing them a favour, cruel to be kind and all that.
    Would I sleep sound in my bed knowing we are not treating our prisoners well, hell yes I could sleep better knowing my 80 year old mother would be less likely to be mugged for the £10 in her purse, if had managed to lock them up for longer there would be less of them on the streets.
    On the other side you sound like an intelligent person, who has a personal moral limit on what you will standby and allow to occur, again if my world had they succeeded in gang raping a screwess they would be castrated and chained to a wall for long enough so they regretted it.

    I’m starting to rant now…….

    I’m getting even worse now, certain categories of crime should also invoke a vasectomy or sterilisation to avoid scum breading more scum and thus UNnaturally selecting out elements of society we could do without. Ok I sound a bit like Hitler, I can live with that.