Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save Prison for the Violent

Imprisonment can cause more social harm than the crimes it punishes. It is hideously expensive. It takes whatever social capital the criminal has - family, employment - and destroys it.

Because of this, the effects of the sentence are often life-long and inescapable. This is not only a weight carried by the criminal - reformed or not - but by society in the form of a permanently reduced contribution.

The use of imprisonment should be restricted, in first instance, to those who cause significant social harm and who need to be confined to prevent them continuing to do harm.

The dirty secret about prisons is that they are overwhelmingly stuffed with people who are a bloody nuisance. Thieves and dodgy dealers, largely. Violent and sexual criminals are - and always have been - the minority.

That such social nuisances are slung in prison is a sign of utter incompetence. Not on the part of the crooks - that’s a given - but on the part of society. Can we really think of no other response to these people than "bang 'em up!"? After a couple of million years of evolution, after centuries of intellectual and political fervour and discovery, is this the best the human race can offer? Really??

Throw them out. Save the nick for people who actually need to have behind a high wall. This would see most of the people currently in prison thrown free, leaving behind the violent remnant. The issue then becomes: what should society’s response be to these other criminals?


  1. What about big white collar crime? Like the bankers for example, how they plunged the economy into such a deep recession, causing untold hardship? Tax evasion? Large scale fraud? These criminals already get away virtually scot free.

    For the sake of justice, these and other 'behind the desk' crimes should bear sentencing, the people responsible punished and then educated.

    Onto the question at the end of your post, if there were at least adequate mental health services, family support (particularly for single parents), inexpensive communal restaurants, free creche facilities, equal pay, the pressures on people and also therefore on society would be much less than it is now, maybe these misfits that currently populate the prisons will have some good stuff in them that can be drawn out; and/ or be cared for by individuals in society whose humanity can flourish.

    In absence of the above such things in place, I dread to think about it, being a misfit is not a punishable crime, but a person who has become a social menace because of this unequal and unfair system we live under is a difficult problem to sort out.

    They would probably need to be isolated in some way whether for good, or until they came around. That would need resources, of which of course there is plenty of, but the rich are too greedy to let any of it go for the benefit of society as a whole that there is a problem ...

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly on this one. I also agree with Sophie about mental health services and family support.

    I think the answer to the question about how we deal with the people who committed acts of violence lies in using more subtle methods of categorization which involve examining the circumstances under which their crime was committed.

    Group one is people who commit ONE violent act in their whole lives for a very understandable reason (i.e. protecting themselves or their families) and will never do it again.

    Group twp act on the spur of the moment and the unintended result of their actions is a death. As with the first group they are highly likely to never commit another violent act if they are taught how to manage their responses to certain situations.

    The third category are people who commit violent acts as a result of serious psychiatric disorders and to my mind, it's only the last group that really should be in secure premises for their own safety and other people's.

    Of course all this requires that we put our emotions to one side start thinking like logical, rational adults which some people seem to have great difficulty with.