I’ve had feedback on my blog recently, which has been encouraging, but also surprising as I’ve not attempted to publicise it in any way at all. It is still very much in development, and I’m in learning mode. The link to Zen is clear, the focus on principles behind actions likewise. It’s also though about identifying agenda – as far as possible the real agendas, not those swayed by hobby-horses or circulation or vote generators that press or politicians may pick up on.
One such is the debate over anti-social behaviour.
What follows is hardly a rigorous examination of our criminal justice system. That would be way beyond my competence. But it is about identifying the real agenda we should be working to.
Louise Casey (the government’s neighbourhood crime tsar – what a title) recently urged the government to deal more quickly and effectively with anti-social behaviour, following the Fiona Pilkington case. She also argued that people wanted a ‘public justice system’ not a ‘criminal’s justice system’, and the Times leapt in with the argument for more prison places, a favoured theme of the moment, with the promise that 5,000 more places will be found and more prisons built if the Tories come to power.
While we all want an end to violence and loutish behaviour on our local streets, we have to ask just who will be incarcerated? Will ASBOs become prison sentences, as seems likely? Prison is an appalling place when it comes to rehabilitating (which however angry we are has to be the real aim), with inadequate schemes within prison, and little support or hope for prisoners (despite good intentions) when they get out of jail. And little prospect especially for longer-serving prisoners of their finding any job that pays a decent wage. Prison is vital as a punishment and a deterrent, but it also all too often guarantees recidivism.
The government are criticised for not building more prisons, but so too were the Tories before them. Prisons are always seen as a low priority, and I doubt if that will change when and if the Tories find themselves in charge of the purse strings.
What we’ve heard recently has been far too much focused on retribution and too little on ensuring criminals are rehabilitated. There’s a dangerous element of populism in Louise Casey’s comment.
Orange jackets, making certain that offenders are denied anonymity, are one small but important step toward making sentencing, prison and community, more effective. This is where the discussion needs to be. Hope, skills and opportunity are what offenders need to escape the vicious downward spiral in which they’re trapped, and jail simply doesn’t give it to them.
Arguing that victims’ rights come second to offenders’ rights assumes a false dichotomy. Retribution is all very well, but what victims and society need far ahead of anything else is the assurance that criminals won’t offend again. Society’s and offenders’ interests are one and the same.
As always, we have to define the right agenda.