Friday, February 12, 2010

Who to Imprison?

Here is the problem: a critical mass of people believe that imprisonment is the only worthwhile punishment available. This is reflected, at its worst, by media stories that assert some crim has "got away" with their crime because they "only" received a fine, community service, or whatever. This has seeped into the popular consciousness - prison is all there is, or should be. The failure of imagination that this reveals is depressing.


  1. Lock up the bankers and throw in some politicians too, some judges and all the bullying and thieving bosses ... then we could see how much better the world looks!

    (oops I am letting my imagination run riot - but I am probably right)

    ps Ben - I love your blog!

  2. Important point Ben, and its taken further by the press and others reaction to sentences of imprisonment - he only got 5 years, she got away with only 7 years etc. With lifers tariffs this auction has got totally out of control with minimum terms of 30 years plus being seen as soft.

    I don't this there is an easy way of turning back this tide but this blog and other sources of information that expose the reality of imprisonment can only help.

  3. I think it's easier for people to think about crime and punishment when they 'other' the criminal and stop seeing them as human beings like them.

    I'd put money on there being a majority of people in prison who are normal human beings who - for whatever reason - found themselves in a bad situation or making a bad choice that resulted in something they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

    Whatever time they serve in jail, they will ALL ultimately serve a life sentence by simply having to live with what they've done.

    For some people - weather they drove while tired, resulting in a fatal crash or they are a person who helps a terminally ill relative to die - I think that having to live with what they did is punishment enough and jail serves no purpose to them or society.

  4. i couldn't agree more. i think we need many more - as you say - "imaginative" alternatives to locking someone up. i think that first off, this would require judges who are able to psychologically size up the offender - what would hurt him/her the most? i'd like to see some of these bankers and creative financiers who fleece the public forced into stocks with their pants down (literally) and something humiliating written across their bum. then maybe a nice tattoo on the back of their hand - a symbol, no words - to let everyone know from there on out they ripped people off and got caught at it. humiliation might work quite well for these types, who thrive on status.

    as for extremely violent, proven guilty, sociopathic criminals, let the punishment be more fitting of the crime. rapists, hit men, violent types, etc - times are hard boys, time to be put to good use picking up trash, painting the bridges, shoveling snow (i live in the US) and so on. you've taken, you've plundered, you've damaged, time to give back.

    it's the 'in betweens' that pose the biggest challenge - the guys who have redeeming qualities, never got a fair break, actually have some insight into the error of their ways. maybe some could be let out and put to work, maybe some should be locked up BUT given a hell of a lot more to do than mind the screws' tea room. offer 'em a chance to stuff envelopes for amnesty international or the cancer research society or something. -

    love the blog. prison reform is wayyyyyyyyyy overdue. can't say for the UK but here in the states, it's an embarrassing and hellish subculture that only serves to create more dedicated criminals and boosts the membership of gangs.

  5. @Charles

    I think I could argue with not too much difficulty that just about everyone falls under the catch-all of "in-betweens". Yup, even the bankers:

    We know from the Standford Prison Experiment (amongst many MANY others) that even intelligent, well-educated people will do some truly barbaric things if put in the right situation; so it wouldn't take much to show that the bankers involved found themselves in a bad culture that dragged them along with it.

    If you're going to take prison reform seriously, you have to reform it for everyone; including the paedos, psychos and Wall Street bankers that don't prod your sympathy gland.

    "Let the punishment fit the crime" is only a whisker away from "an eye for an eye" and both have been shown time and again not to work. Reform has to mean taking even the most difficult unsympathetic criminals seriously, treating them as human beings and helping them back into society.

    Ben is easy to care about; he has reformed himself, but he is by far the minority case. If we really want to change things it's the lost majority that we instinctively shy away from that we have to look after. That's why it's so hard.