"While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances — to The Lambeth Walk."

Friday, 22 May 2009

Prison Violence on the Rise

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, there were more than 40,000 violent acts among prisoners last year - more than 100 a day.

My take on this is that prisons are not punitive in the correct way. Often the atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed, the authorities not really in control. It is other prisoners whom convicts must fear, not the law, governor or officers.

The hilariously-named Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, insists that the reason for the rise in violence is overcrowding and the mistreatment of mental health problems. Crook says that studying 141 English and Welsh prisons revealed that incidents of self-harm, assaults and fires had gone up by 180,000 in five years.

The solution of Crook and the Howard League is to get more young prisoners community sentences, and generally look to alternative punishments to prison.

There's a huge problem with this - arguably the shocking rise in violent crime on Britain's streets is caused by inadequate punishment.

Prison serves at least one function - it keeps dangerous people off the streets and away from the law-abiding public, thus interrupting their criminal career.

Reform groups also wish to see more criminals diagnosed with mental illness. The problem with such a definition is that it takes the onus not only off of punishment, but off of the protection of the public, and puts it squarely on the needs of the individual who has been 'diagnosed' or convicted.

Take the case of Christopher Clunis. In 1992, the 18 stone Schizophrenic plunged a knife through the eye of an innocent man, Jonathan Zito.

Zito, who had just got married, was simply waiting for a train when Clunis struck. After the arrest of Clunis it was revealed that he had previously been very violent, but he had been released under the controversial 'Care in the Community' scheme after the closure of the old mental hospitals.

Clunis is now being prepared for release back into the community.

Like most Leftist impulses, the destruction of the mental hospitals or 'asylums' was driven by good intentions. The problem is they never took the trouble to seriously think of a viable alternative. They spent a lot of time focusing on those who did not deserve to be locked up - and forgot those that did.

Why would the same not be true for the destruction of automatic prison sentences for most crimes?

We already live in a society with one of the most liberal justice systems on earth. Murderers rarely spend twenty years in prison, the restoration of the death penalty for murder is simply unthinkable, and most repeat offenders have to do something pretty serious before they go to prison for the first time.

In return, this is rapidly becoming a very violent society. If the law can't control people in prison, then where can it control them?

1 comment:

MK said...

In the past i have read a bit about what passes for prisons in your country, it's a pathetic joke. Ours aren't all that great, but damn, it's soft out your way.

"In return, this is rapidly becoming a very violent society. If the law can't control people in prison, then where can it control them?"

And don't forget Earl, even though they can't control the scum and keep you folks safe, it'll be a cold day in the hell they love so much before they let any of you try to look after yourselves.