27 April 2006

Prisons are failing to protect the public.

Our judges prescribe the longest prison sentences in Europe. We lock the most people up. And what is the solution of the Right? Yes you guessed it, Labour has gone soft on crime and we need to lock more people up for even longer.

We can't let the Right get away with this. They are trying to have it both ways. On one hand they join with the libertarians in saying that Labour is authoritarian but on the other that we need more prisons and more prisoners. Which is it to be?

With the foreign offenders debacle ringing in our ears this is probably not the right time to discuss this but...

The truth is actually far simpler (and cheaper!) than expanding our prisons. We need to lock up as few people as possible, either that or lock them up and throw away the key on their first trivial offence (and even the Right aren't advocating that, no matter how much it sounds like they are). Prisons are universities of crime churning out future re-offenders. It is clearly a very expensive and failed procedure. What we need is rehabilitation.

No system is perfect and there will always be high profile horrific cases for the media to focus on. Just like out of the millions of successfully treated patients on the NHS there are always a few cases of negligence or failure.

Outside of those who are a violent or sexual danger to the public who will always need to be securely held, we need to be more imaginative in how we rehabilitate. The punishment should fit the crime. The victim should have more say in how they are to be compensated. If both parties are willing, burglars and other thieves should have to work to pay back losses and pay compensation to their victims, perpetrators should also have to apologise directly and (hopefully) sincerely to their victims. There is evidence to suggest this works. By confronting the criminal with his victim, he is more likely to realise the pain his crimes cause (and if not let's beat him up - only joking!).

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