Currently there seems to be a lot of news relating to the penal system within this country and justice in general. At an open prison inmates regularly abscond, smuggle in alcohol, face burglaries into the compound and riot when denied a Christmas drink. The main political parties seem to have reached a consensus whereby we don’t send criminals to jail anymore and neither Labour (who cut the probation service) or the Conservatives (who didn’t rush to revive it) will admit there is actually no alternative in place that could cope with the quantity of criminals it would likely have to deal with.
A bit back there was a story about prisoners in a Scottish jail being given new LCD televisions with built in DVD players to meet energy efficiency targets. The reactionary outcry was allayed with the promise that the taxpayer would not be out of pocket as the inmates paid for their television viewing privileges. The news media being what it now is, no one stopped to ask where the prisoners got their money from in the first place.
Amidst all the talk of reform, of preventing reoffending and of rehabilitation we seem to have forgotten some central tenets of justice and of the justice system: in punishment for wrongs committed, in providing examples to act as deterrents and to protect society by removing the people from it with a proven record of damaging it. In this era of cutting costs we’ve forgotten that there are actually victims as well as just perpetrators.
I don’t think we can lock people up on finite sentences without some form of rehabilitation, and I don’t think all crimes warrant a custodial sentence, but I do think that there needs to be an infrastructure in place to actually protect society and to punish offenders. And, for that matter, to actually rehabilitate them. What we have now isn’t working and looks like it will get considerably worse before anyone takes the time and invests the money needed to make it any better.