Thursday, November 24, 2011

Herald letter writer states that society has changed and prisoners should serve the full jail term to which they were sentenced, tired old Tory dogma

Dear All

I was on the Herald and came across a letter from David J Crawford which is quite interesting as he writes on penal reform.

He starts off by quoting Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill who opines that prisons should not be routinely used for short-term prisoners.

And he is right, short term prison sentences don’t work.

But David goes on by saying this short statement highlights the confusion that lies at the heart of the criminal justice system, and that is lack of clarity of purpose.

“Before one can start to question the length of sentences and where they should be served, one needs clarity as to why one imposes a custodial sentence. Offenders can be sent to prison on various pretexts; to punish them; to re-educate them; to protect society from their predations are some of them. There are many inadequate people sent to jail who should never be there. When one examines Scottish crime statistics it is however obvious that the majority of offences are caused by repeat offenders to whom the current system is no deterrent and which does not produce a significant improvement in their behaviour, so current practice just does not work. It may not be politically acceptable for an MSP to say so but most crime is carried out by a small sub-set of society and the overwhelming majority of us are innocent victims yet we suffer the financial burden of dealing with the problem”.

So, that is his statement to frame his argument, very much in the mould of former Tory MSP Bill Aitken School of ‘Hang Em High’.

The cost of prison is £40k a year to lock someone up; then afterwards the people are effectively unemployable and thrown on the scrap heap.

Hence with no prospects, no future and a pro active bar from the job market albeit menial jobs are on offer if available we have a cycle of crime that sees some people with 40, 50, 60 or 70 offences.

They don’t care because the penalty is free room and board if caught.

Where else in Scotland will the Government spend £40k on the under privileged?

As well as the cost of locking someone up, they aren’t in jobs and paying tax which is another part of the equation which should be taken into account, their chaotic lives spiral downwards and in some cases led to violence and murder.

David Crawford then wrote:

“The Scottish criminal justice system operates a revolving-door principle and Mr MacAskill is correct in saying that we need to close the door but it should be closed with “them” inside rather than outside”.

This doesn’t address the problem, in fact, it makes it worse, public finances are in serious trouble, there is a tsunami of cuts about to hit Scotland and then crime at a 35 year low will escalate upwards.

Before the end of the SNP Government’s term in office, crime will rise.

To try and address the problem, there are various little schemes to work with offenders but generally, it about getting a prisoner in a menial job to occupy their time.

But nothing above a certain level is offered.

David then comes to his point, after setting the stage:

“Instead of worrying about convicted criminals being sent to jail for short sentences he should be concentrating on making sure that society is protected from repeat offenders by ensuring that if they are handed down a sentence of four years they actually serve four years in prison”.

This fails to take into account that while in prison; society is trying to effect change which is the new buzzword in Scottish politics for the Glasgow City Council election next year.

Prison is there to punish and also re-educate but to do so carrots are needed as well as stick. There are sound reasons for allowing early release and being flexible helps the prisoners, the prison estate and the government.

“If we have overcrowded prisons because the estate was built for anticipated usage in the 20th century perhaps we should recognise that we are living in the 21st century and accept that society in general is completely different than it was years ago; perhaps more people need to be sent to jail and kept there”.

Such simplistic thinking may seem fine in the Scottish Tory fish pond but reality bites, £40k a year would be better spent providing these people with a future, we need to break the cycle of crime and we need radical reform of the justice system.

A lot of people don’t need to be in prison, but by the same token there are people whose crimes are so extreme they represent a threat to society and have to be detained.

David J Crawford put forward the logic of an immature student, and possible Tory candidate taking his first tender steps to be recognise as a ‘force’ in Scottish politics.

Unfortunately he isn’t a force; because he can only draw on old tired solutions, in a collapsing financial market, he hasn’t the imagination to be creative.

Prisoner reform requires an encompassing strategy.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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