A taste of imprisonment may punish but it does not reform

Professor Carol Hedderman, Professor of Criminology, University of Leicester:

Prison punishes effectively, but if we want to reform people who offend, and thereby reduce the number of victims, we should stop sending so many of them to prison.

I accept that there are dangerous people who commit terrible crimes and that, however imperfectly they deal with such people, prisons are needed to isolate such people from the rest of us. But those sorts of people and the sorts of crime they commit are thankfully rare in this country. They are not the people filling our prisons.

I also accept that most of those serving long prison sentences are doing so because we not only want to keep them out of circulation but also want to express our outrage and condemnation by punishing them in this way. But it is important to understand that while prison may express our disapproval and may punish effectively, it has an extremely poor record when it comes to stopping people offending again.

Perhaps if we made prisons tougher, it would have the desired effect? I do not think so, but even if it did we cannot afford to make prison conditions worse for two other reasons. First, prisons only run with current staffing levels because most prisoners cooperate. Prisoners are not given TVs in their cells because prison governors are soft but because it is cheaper to spend £100 on a TV than many thousand on an extra officer. Second, we know that the majority of those in prison are suffering from a mental illness, they are 13 times more likely to have been in care, and most cannot read and write as well as an 11 year old. I am not seeking sympathy for them or trying to excuse what they have done, I am simply questioning whether inflicting more suffering on such people is morally defensible. As Winston Churchill said almost exactly 100 years ago, how we respond to those who offend “is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”.

Professor Carol HeddermanOf course, you can always find one prisoner who says either that prison was easy or that it transformed their lives for the better. Equally, you can always find one 98 year old who ascribes their long life to smoking 60 a day. Such individual stories are a poor basis for working out how well prison or smoking works out for most people. Indeed, when it comes to those serving sentences of less than a year, reconviction rates seem to suggest that short prison sentences actively make people worse. This is partly because those on short sentences stay inside just long enough to lose their jobs, their homes and their family ties; and partly because they get no official help from probation on release. This is a recipe for promoting, not reducing, reoffending and creating, not preventing, fresh victims.

We are paying a very high financial price for this too. It costs about 10 times more to keep someone in prison for a year as it does for Probation to supervise them. This might be justified if prison was 10 times, or even twice as effective, but it is not. Comparing like-for-like people, a recent government study has shown probation is at least 7% more effective in reducing reconvictions. And when you look at reoffending rates over time you discover that short sentence reoffending rates have gone up while probation’s have remained stable.

So am I just an uncritical advocate of probation? I certainly think it offers a more effective and cheaper way of stopping most of those on short sentences from reoffending. And probation can certainly be hard work, demanding and uncomfortable. But it is not in the same league as prison if its punishment you want. So the question is should we punish or reform, because it’s a con trick to suggest that either prison or probation is good at doing both.

Carol Hedderman, BA (Hons), M. Phil (Cantab), PhD (Cantab) was appointed Professor of Criminology at the University of Leicester in October 2004. Her research interests include the effectiveness of sentencing; ‘rational’ approaches to sentencing; the comparative effectiveness of different approaches to enforcing court penalties; and the broad question of ‘what works’ in prison and probation.

24 Comments

  1. Mrs Nicholson
    Posted 24/03/2011 at 17:05 | Permalink

    If the majority of offences punished by prison are minor offences how does time in prison reform them, the system does not acknowledge any support or action plans for these offenders ads they are not in the system long enough. They are not reformed when they leave and simply return to a life filled with social ineqaulities and dependency. Should we not socially fix our problem before pointing the blame at individuals. We have a system that for years has benefitted the rich whilst punishing the poor. Our lives revolve around desires of material belongings that equal sucess and often the mean and goals do not align therefore crime is often committed to gain these goals. Our education system is set to fail the lower classes and our evoloution has left them with no job or career prospects, to succeed crime occurs. If we really slove these issues and look at our ineqaulities perhaps the need for prison will decline.

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    nicola jarvis Reply:

    your comments are so right Mrs Nicholson. its a much bigger social picture than just of prison reform. its entirely of inequalities throughout, as you say. and really it never has changed. its so wrong that individuals are slated by the media, labelled and scorned, when criminality is much more than being incarcerated. take for instance the sex industry, the person at fault is sent to court, the person behind the set up of the whole situation gets off. i would say a term of imprisonment is damaging to an individual but its similar to a tidal wave flowing along – it doesnt matter who gets caught up in the slurry. i recently read Judith Cook “To Brave Every Danger” about the First Fleet going to set up the penal colonies in Botany Bay which highlighted the whole tortuous experience. all it did was move the problem along, the individuals did not matter or feature, they had to endure. we no longer have anywhere to send the undesirables and miscreants and whilst things might have changed on one level, underneath very little has altered.

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  2. 25thDerivative
    Posted 20/03/2011 at 13:14 | Permalink

    May we attempt a short thought experiment? Why don’t I walk into a bank and demand the contents of the cashiers float? I need the money, that’s for sure, so why not? There are moral considerations, whereby, it isn’t mine and I would be terrifying the cashier. I could just pass a note, cashiers are told not to refuse, thereby, at least in part, bypassing the fear factor. So why not? The fear of prison! Getting caught would be approximately 75% certain, cctv, witnesses etc. The fear of waiting for the knock at the door that wood initiate arrest and ultimately imprisonment. However, is it the fear of imprisonment, or the lose of my family, my children, my social standing, position of employment, (however lousy), the lose of liberty? Now there’s a factor, the lose of liberty. My time no longer mine.
    It would seem therefore that the fear of prison works, at least in my case. I simply do not desire to be branded a criminal, a convicted robber, do not desire to put my family through the process of me being convicted and imprisoned, do not relish being locked up in a secure institution wherein my time is controlled by the regime, any regime. Told when to eat, wake, work, uniformed clothing, who to live with, etc. However, although the fear of prison may at least cause hesitation in the majority of socially minded individuals, it would seem, from re-offending rates, that the actual experience of imprisonment does not deter offenders from further offences. Or, is it possible that once lost, all the desire in the world cannot bring back what has been taken. On release from prison one is labled a convicted criminal. With luck, a lot of luck, one still has a family, a home, and, with a lot of application, a job at some point. But with no luck….. ? There would seem to be little choice but further offences, prison or not. After all there is nothing left to lose but liberty.

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  3. moira
    Posted 19/03/2011 at 16:16 | Permalink

    BOTTOM LINE IS MONEY AND WHAT IS COST EFFECTIVE, PEOPLE GET AWAY WITH FAR TOO MUCH IN THIS COUNTRY, SOME WHEN BEING SENTANCED TO JAIL DO REFORM, THEN U HAVE THE OTHER KIND WHO R GRATEFUL FOR 3 SQUARE MEALS AND A FREE ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS, SEND EM ALL ON HOLIDAY WHY DONT WE??? FUNNY HOW MONEY IS AVAILABLE FOR THAT, AND AS FOR THE LAW. I HAVE NO RESPECT FOR UNIFORMED BULLIES,COS THATS EXACTLY WHAT MOST OF THEM ARE

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    Karl Reply:

    I take issue with you last comment there Moira. Uniformed Police are not ‘bullies’ as you put it (ok there are a few, but are an absolute minority, and are quickly weeded out by the Police themselves). I have met, and I know, a great many Police (of many ranks) and they joined the job to lock up the thugs and scrotes which is what we all want!! Personally I would lock up these people for longer, ‘rehabilitation’ doesn’t work in the vast majority of cases, the thugs just come away from their few weeks stay inside a better class of criminal and now have a better understanding of how not to leave a forensic trail!

    Protecting the law abiding public is their priority, and a priority they get right in the vast majority of cases. Failures are more often seen when the criminal justice system fails to penalise these people adequately, and that is because politicians are so busy meddling in the system that is supposed to be distinct and separate from the political process. The last 13 years of the Labour government is a perfect example of political gerrymandering for their own ends at the cost of the law abiding public!

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    James T Reply:

    SO the alternative to a uniformed police service is what? Anarchy?

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  4. Doug1943
    Posted 19/03/2011 at 14:15 | Permalink

    Couldn’t we try something like this: designate some suitably-large part of the country as a Reform Area: a few square miles should do it. Put a Berlin-wall style wall around it, complete with minefields. Send all the criminals to live there, permanently, along with all prison-hating criminologists.

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  5. nicola jarvis
    Posted 18/03/2011 at 15:22 | Permalink

    i have always believed that being sent to prison is as much a sentence for the ones left behind, and i cant believe that it is really effective. ive thought this for a long time from having read novels or actual stories from offenders, of the conditions in prisons, and none of it equates to really tackling anything. whilst i havent personally been in a prison i too have mental health issues which perhaps would result in some punishment were i to become unstable or unsafe. i cant see where other countries have had success with sending people to prisons, tho the stories i have read have mostly been in the countries where tough laws are in existence and where the population is in the higher numbers, ie usa, china, chile, south africa. i dont know the penal systems for our european counterparts or how the prisoners fare inside. i think a lot more support should be there for those in prisons so that their time is spent productively, not just by creating, but by education. ive watched programs where the bias has been for women to receive better care than men and how women react with possibly more violence that is tolerated than from the men. i feel our prisons should reflect how our society operates and my belief is that in the UK the victims are given a raw deal as well as those inside, but those who are on probation or serve shorter sentences, dont seem to “suffer” from having been imprisoned. i think the whole UK penal system needs to be re-arranged to reflect the care of prisoners and how the morale on those taking care must be affected, more money should be spent on perhaps more isolation in smaller cells, but those cells being only as containment for evening or when under punishment. this way the congregation of the prisoners is more of a community, and that this is used more effectively. although i believe tv’s and drugs are tolerated to “control” and quieten prisoners in lieu of the cost of employing more officers….i think this should also be altered. its a whole problem issue and not just an issue of someone breaking the law and spending time inside. there has to be ways that work, on why people break the law in the first place and preventing this, and on the punishment to fit the crime and those prisoners being treated accordingly, rather than everyone who breaks the law receiving a tariff or a term and this means being away from society….

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    jan parker-padley Reply:

    “…why people break the law in the first place and preventing this, and on the punishment to fit the crime and those prisoners being treated accordingly, rather than everyone who breaks the law receiving a tariff or a term and this means being away from society…”.

    Excellent point Nicola. Society as it stands has to me, three basic problems, one is dysfunction and civic disobedience is seen as the norm as portrayed in the soaps and programmes like Big Brother, where misbehaviour and dysfunction is seen as sexy and exciting, rather than crass and infantile. This leads to law breaking an civil disrespect. Two is the idolisation of thuggish and dysfunctional behaviour of celebs, sports persons, political and business persons who reap the rewards of theft and fraud as well as mismanagement and uncivil behaviour. They are not punished accordingly so their actions lead to copy cat activities. Three is mass unemployment, which breeds boredom and keeps young adults in childhood/teenage mode, drugs, alcohol and misappropriate sexual activity come about through boredom and failure to have aspirations met or even hope of achieving, rather than treating them like adults with civic and civil responsibilities to society we demean their endeavours to be adults by not giving them the adult related means to live in and by society. I would have advocated full housing benefit for all people of the age of 16 and upwards, which was in situ before Lady Thatcher’s government, and is now perpetuated by Cameron’s government by the ridiculous rule that, “…you can claim Housing Benefit to help pay for your rent if your income and savings are below a certain level. If you’re single and aged under 25 you can only get Housing Benefit for bed-sit accommodation or a room in shared accommodation. You cannot get Housing Benefit if you’re living with your parents or other close relatives and paying rent to them. You won’t usually be able to claim if you’re a full-time student unless you’re disabled or have children…” Give young people the means to have aspirations met to have access to getting their own home – forget the silly under 25 bit and the bed-sit blah blah, give young people the means to grow up and stop treating them like children. Yes they will make mistakes, yes they may still break the law, but what is new about that? Give respect to get respect. Enable rather than disable. Also, if welfare benefits were allowed to run side by side, at a reduced rate, for the first six months of employment there would be an easing of the financial difficulty, dependency if you like, on welfare benefits. If that person leaves the job within or before a job contract (a lot of jobs are contract orientated) then their benefit would be kept at the reduced rate till they take up employment again. I know this digresses from prison and reform, but you mentioned looking at why people break the law.
    You might find the following link helpful re housing benefit:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110310/halltext/110310h0001.htm

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  6. SteveM
    Posted 18/03/2011 at 13:51 | Permalink

    Here is a deeply ingrained social problem, calling for long-term policies.
    Already, we hit a difficulty, because governments often shun slow-burning projects in favour of an approach that gains public recognition. As you point out, offender reform is a tricky area to negotiate due to issues of cost and a sense that incarceration should be punitive.
    However, my own personal viewpoint is that the demographic with the highest propensity for crime need to be somehow given a sense of self-worth, and purpose. This is something that needs to be tackled from the ground up, starting with youth centres and (compulsory?) organised activities and a novel approach to education. A standard curriculum of GCSE subjects simply cannot be right for everyone, can it? Complimentary programs need to be in place for those who offend: opportunities to develop appropriate skills for re-integration into society. The trouble with this notion is the danger that prison may come to be experienced by some as a more appealing environment than the outside world! The issue of cost and the inherent ‘unfairness’ in giving aid to those who have committed an offence is obviously a key issue here too. For that reason, manual labour or menial tasks might also form a part of prison life. Prison-based manufacture? There are already art/sculpture programs in place in some prisons, but these are not usually government-organised. Community sentences , too, are rarely effective, seemingly due to a lack of proper enforcement (if we are to believe what we read in the news) and because of the legislative red-tape restricting the available activities. Often, offenders on placement do not receive an appropriate welcome from their community placement. Let us aim to transform prisons and community sentences into a combined effort at rehabilitation and punishment, offering mutual benefits for both the offender and the wider population, in order to foster a sense of moral/social responsibility on behalf of both parties. We do know that unemployment rates are linked to higher crime statistics, and that this is not necessarily related to income …

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  7. Albannach
    Posted 17/03/2011 at 00:25 | Permalink

    As a Police Custody Officer for the last 15 years I conclude ,from personal experience ,that too much heat and insufficient light is generated on crime and punishment .
    The largest percentage of people I lock up are 16-24 ,here in Scotland we do not criminalise the under 16`s .
    The majority of the 16-24 year olds live at home with parents ,are generally poorly educated ,unemployed a bit dim and drink too much alcohol.
    Lock up murderers ,robbers and rapists and those we deem it appropriate for public safety.
    Lock up and strip the assets of major drug dealers until we legalise the trade .Then tax them which is asset stripping by another name.
    Treat minor dealers who are usually addicts as victims .Treat them and do not park them on methadone ad infinitum .
    I am not a soft touch .I was stabbed with a needle full of blood by a drug addict at work.I have been assaulted more times than i can count .
    Compassion is more fruitful long term and a more efficient use of resources than warehousing those whom we fear.
    The present system puts me on first name terms with immature young men who usually mature in time.

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    efgd Reply:

    Informative comment. I tend to agree with what you say. Decriminalizing certain offences and treating those ‘offenders’ as victims and moving them off of drugs, and alcohol, dependence would be a good step to take.

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    25thDerivative Reply:

    Reading this from a police custody officer, with 15yrs in the job no less, is jaw dropping! I agree with what is said, but am surprised to hear an officer of the law speak with such an open mind. My personal experience of uniformed and lower rank officers being one of; ‘never believe a word being said, think the worst of everybody, never give them an even break, and lock them up.’ Mind closed! There is hope for the ‘judged before they’re spoken to’ yet.

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    moira Reply:

    WITH RESPECT MY FRIEND BUT HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE WHEN YOU HAVE BENT OFFICERS IN PRISONS SUPPLYING THE INMATES???

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    25thDerivative Reply:

    Was refering to police officers!

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    Albannach Reply:

    I work in a custody suite not a prison so cannot comment on something I have no personal experience of .

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  8. Eric Jackson
    Posted 15/03/2011 at 11:47 | Permalink

    I’m not well read on this but it seems to me that, since offenders are people, are individuals, there is no single solution to this problem. Just as different people learn in different ways, just as different smokers respond differently to different methods of quitting, so too different offenders would respond differently to different methods of reform.

    I would also point out that (and this is only my opinion) it is easier for a toung person to get involved in crime than it is for them to get a job, particularly if they are poorly educated, and criminal activity generally pays better than work. The problem is one for society as a whole. There needs to be a desire instilled at an early age to get on in life, followed up with real opportunities to actually do so. Certainly in deprived areas of high unemployment and overcrowded schools and gang mentality on the streets, those things are simply not there in a great enough capacity.

    Social projects cost money. That money comes from taxes. Without hiking taxes and throwing lots of money at the problem of crime, which would involve massive investment improving education and creating public sector jobs, the problem won’t go away.

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  9. jan parker-padley
    Posted 12/03/2011 at 11:58 | Permalink

    How about looking at what is currently deemed a criminal offense, and the sanctions regarding so called petty crimes?

    The legalisation of drugs would eliminate a few people from prison and straight into a rehabilitation system, if they needed it – personal choice as another commentator said comes into play here, if someone wants to take drugs they will, like they now drink to get totally out of it. The idea of the Booze Bus (London) is a good one, the drunks are prevented from costing all of the social services a lot of money – thus how about a Drug Bus? Drug clinics and outlet premises, all technologically and industrially clean and spacious to sell the correct measure and constitution of a drug, with areas within, like ‘a pub/bar’ that sells alcohol, a clinic/cafe/club that sells drugs; a bit like the cafe style of Amsterdam, but a premise that is licensed to sell a fixed brand and measured amount of drugs. Thus you are tackling drugs (and alcohol) at source and immediately after. The costing should come from those taking such substances and being out of control – a £40 payment every time they had to use the Bus, and a £1000 fine for failure to use the Bus facilities. Each and every time.

    The same could be for what is classed as petty crimes, not an immediate prison sentence but a fine of an effective proportion to be paid to the victim, that is not reduced to a measly amount to be paid back over a long term period. If they are on benefits or low paid employment then 20 percent of their ‘wage’ or benefit should be used to repay the ‘fine’ each week or monthly, if in a better paid job then an outright payment or 40 percent of their wage till the fine is paid off to the victim, along with a community based activity. The family unit of a person being impinged to pay towards the fine if the person has not got the money in the first place, whoever the culprit is, adult, young adult or child. Obviously there has to be actions that relate to homelessness, but this would be the first step.

    Prison would be after the second violation by the said prepetrator, after a fine of an effective proportion is immediately taken, and then a community service in conjunction with the prison sentence to take effect. No parole or out early for so called good behaviour. The years sentenced would have to be completed in total. And that should apply to all other crimes. Life should mean life and 40 years should mean 40 years.

    Once punishment is seen as such and hits the perpetrator where it hurts, in their pocket and then their freedom, then a possible deterrent will be in place – that is why I say an effective fine – the total and absolute cost plus a tenth of the such cost with the maximum amount going to the victim, with the fine not being below the minimum wage amount – currently £5.93, lets round up to £6, equals £12.480 year to be the fine to be paid either out right or at 20 (or 40 percent if in a higher paid job) of their monthly ‘wage’ @ £208, plus a tenth £20.80 equals £228.80 a month, to be taken at source. Draconian? Maybe. But lets start from the point of view of the victim, then retribution for the victim, then costs of the crime – legislature and judiciary, then punishment and then rehabilitation.

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    nicola jarvis Reply:

    hi jan, i liked a lot of which you proposed but another thing to add to the pot which brings these things to a round-robin as it were, when you conceived a payment had to be made – in instances say where it is a husband, who may be an earner or as part of a benefit claim, then his actions affect all who rely on him or as part of his claim. i say this as my first marriage i was part of a system where i was earning good money, my ex was already having huge chunks out of his earned income for judgement out of earnings before we met, which meant our joint income effectively meant i was now responsible for his debts etc and as he didnt learn “his” lesson from this, each tax on him became an “us” issue. i had felt very aggrieved at the time as this form of judgement was met by others not him. and in the cases where there is little income and high need this form affects the crime aspect loop

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    jan parker-padley Reply:

    Yes, there will always be instances to take into account, however the notion of the ‘family unit’ being brought into the equation is one I am advocating firstly. Those who do not learn from their mistakes and persist in being offenders would end up imprisoned or in a community job maybe that prevents them from enjoying the fruits of someone else paying their fine, or having the burden of punishment situated upon the innocent party; obviously crime affects the family, or at least it should, to tolerate a lawless person is irresponsible and inconsiderate to the family and to society in general. In your case it is a sad effect that your ex-husband did not learn to behave better; not going into detail the crime and punishment costs can only work on those that learn their lesson and will perhaps prevent ordinary decent folk from taking that first criminal step. Habitual offenders need to be punished with their freedom of financial and incarceration situation being affected towards them. Thanks for your comment to me.

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  10. David Morrey
    Posted 10/03/2011 at 17:22 | Permalink

    Something seems to be missing from this thread – prison as crime prevention, and I don’t mean deterrence. If (anecdotal statistic here) 90% of crime is committed by multiple offenders then locking them up prevents crime, until you let them out again that is. If an individual repeat criminal has shown themselves unable to reform themselves inside prison or outside prison then one response is obviously to try harder to reform them. Another is to lock ’em up and throw away the key. The reform route is the more interesting social experiment whose outcome will be uncertain but will surely keep lots of academics in interesting research projects. Lock em up , however, is dull, fairly expensive, but it works every time. Of course when I say ‘it works’, I mean it reduces crime levels and spares the victims of crime. What it doesn’t do is give any of us the feel good factor of being caring, cuddly people…

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    25thDerivative Reply:

    Where are these millions, and I mean millions, of re-offenders going to be housed? If the key is thrown away on one generation the space to house the next generation of re-offenders runs out within a few years.

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    Chris Williams Reply:

    The Isle of Wight?

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    James T Reply:

    Perhaps the older generation could sell off a couple of their houses? That would probably be enough to fund a couple of prisons.

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    jan parker-padley Reply:

    Maybe the next generation will not be so keen on being really locked away? At the moment most young criminals laugh at both the police and the judiciary system. It obviously is not working as it stands. The police have to watch their behaviour and be nice and gentle with a criminal, the lawyers say poor soul must have come from a single-parent background, or a same-sex couple parent background. Most young criminals come from two parent families;not all criminals come from single parent backgrounds, though they might come from an impoverished background. Most young criminals know they will get a gentle slap on the wrist and a paltry fine and told not to do it again. If they do they have better provision in prison than many working class families.

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    25thDerivative Reply:

    Sorry, ‘The police have to watch their behaviour’ Tell that to the dead guy in central London who was only trying to get home when he passed some riot control police line. And where are you collecting your data? How do you know; ‘most young criminals laugh at both the police and the judiciary system’? Show me the sociological research support for the above statements, or, are they, as I presume, personal suppositions? How you see the world don’t make for an established or supported proposition.

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    efgd Reply:

    Indeed it is very sad that someone should lose their life by a bad or misdirected action: it works both ways of course http://www.policememorial.org.uk/Police_Memorial_Trust/PMT-Memorials.htm

    My comments are based on my observations. There is nothing wrong with suppositions or viewpoints, they are the mainstay of the people, who get information from the tabloids, television, news, peers, parents, schools, colleges, universities and or the Internet, all of which may be basing their opinon or statement on experience or research info or not or on part of a social research paper.

    Of course not all young criminals are as I stated, the same as not all police officers are as you stated. Riot policing is fraught with tension, on both sides. Been there and experienced that. Not saying police brutailty or incompetence is right. But neither is an offensive and violent youth culture, with no respect for individuals, property or the law; there must be some kind of problem as, “…re-offending by juvenile offenders is extremely high. Some 75% of those released from custody and 68% of those given community sentences or other disposals in the community re-offend within a year.” http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2011-03-08a.149.0&s=speaker%3A24764

    You obviously took offense at my comments, if most young criminals re-offend then they are not bothered about the law or the judiciary system; is it letting them down? Maybe. Back to the debate.

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    25thDerivative Reply:

    Since the point of this debate is to discuss alternatives to a penal system that isn’t working your comments on the percentage of reoffending are simply stating the obvious. Also, anybody who has been educated to even 1st year university level knows the folly of repeating unsubstanciated rhetoric, especially rhetoric published in the tabloids. Without substantiated research to back it up any proposition forwarded is arguably invalid. As I stated previously, how you see the world is not necesserily the way things are, especially if your opinions are gathered form tabliods, and your conclusions derived from percentages of reoffending. The researched percentages may be valid, fair enough, the problem then becomes one of, how to reduce the rates of reoffending.

    efgd Reply:

    Exactly – but the fist paragraph on the blog stated that, “Prison punishes effectively, but if we want to reform people who offend, and thereby reduce the number of victims, we should stop sending so many of them to prison.”

    Thus if prison punishes effectively, which means the person does not do the crime again, then why should we reform it? If re-offending is a problem, as I think it might be based on the stats, then obviously prison does not punish effectively. The two points, one prison works as a punishment and two, that there are too many criminals who go to prison, do not seem to gel. Thus the penal system either does or does not work – as an effective punishment prevents criminals from a) offending again and b) deters other people from criminal activity.

    The cause or re-offending is part and parcel of the statement that prison punishes effectively. So is re-offending a serious enough issue per say – as there will always be re-offenders, this is not my opinion, nor was I saying I was basing my observations on tabloid sensationalism, just saying that such sensationalism, as I stated, is sometimes based on facts:”Despite a 50% increase in the budget for prisons and managing offenders in the last ten years, around half of adult offenders re-offend within a year of being released from prison.
    Source: Ministry of Justice – December 2010.” That is a lot of re-offenders. So to be caustic, are the same criminals taking up half the prisons over and over again, with the other half leaving prison and not re-offending – with a new batch of criminals taking up their place?

    The comment that certain offenses be decriminalised would go towards reducing the number of reoffenders – drug related – and new offenders – drug related.

    Though you comment is generically correct, “Without substantiated research to back it up any proposition forwarded is arguably invalid.” The majority of people do not troll through research data, they read the summary as in this blog, not the comments the blog which is a summary with on research details or stats. This has brought in many educated people and they have made comments – as have I expect many people who are not lucky enough to be educated to a First year university level, but they have a valid argument or point of view. Sometimes a more practical one, in that they have been on the receiving end of the penal system, victim and or criminal, that a lot of research professors who sometimes lack common sense but are extremely educated – been there done that, and no I can not give you the research figures on it, so all points are valid and add to the tapestry of debate.

    Andy Y Reply:

    Prison, should be a punishment, to deter people from re-offending it is as simple as that. Long gone are the days where prisoners pick oakum, we live in an age where prisoners receive £45,000 sex changes, and are given pretty much whatever they want. Prisons are like social clubs for the majority of the criminal element, It certainly is not a deterrent any more. Prevention is always better than the cure, so the prison system should endeavour to be something that will make people think twice before committing offences.

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    nicola jarvis Reply:

    hi Andy, whether this is a debate merely at the educated i dont know but i agree with your comment based on my own fears for my son. who over a few occasions has come close to being committed and when i asked how he would cope, bravado or otherwise, he commented that he was not bothered, and in fact that “many” of his mates were inside and he agreed it is more of a social club or a pat on the back as recognition from the us/them mentality…rather as any preventative measure. i think he has matured somewhat in his criminal activities. i can only add that it is a slow process to be from that place to getting on in the world and if this is where you are in relation to others, it would be more of an advantage to get support than there is available at present

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  11. Paul milligan
    Posted 09/03/2011 at 16:40 | Permalink

    Reform all the way, very few of the people in our prisons have ever wanted to hurt anybody. I’m happy to admit smoking the odd bit of cannabis, actually I’m proud to say that instead if going out, getting extremely drunk, loosing control of my body, starting fights, urinating and throwing up in the street etc, like the adult ‘role models’ I see in town on the weekends, i’m sensible enough to relax with a friend at home watching a movie and yes maybe smoking a spliff or two. Yet I’m the one you want to throw in prison to be socialised by criminals, and I’ve read some pretty shocking statistics about offenders who go into prison because of cannabis. Due to the stressful environment they feel they need something to help them get through it. Problem is in prisons there’s drug tests, heroin, can be flushed out of the system effeciently enough to be missed by these tests in 2 days, cannabis takes months. Other drugs may be more available in prisons, not to mention the dealers inside, who may well be trying to expand there business at the expense of some kid who’s had a tough time of it and ended up in prison for a minor crime. So let’s say we legalise (and tax) cannabis, sort out the rest of our drug policy and no longer have to be too worried with drugs. We are still putting people in prison and forcing them to not only communicate, but live with violent offenders, and indeed other offenders who will be bragging about how they got hold of this well nice motor without the keys etc as though it’s the done thing. If you want to rehabilitate some one and make them fit in with society, surely forcing them to spend all there time, for years of there life with criminals as their only peers they will naturally adopt the norms and values if said group? Stick them in a room with the victims of their crimes and force them to face up to it. Prison doesn’t force inmates to think about what they have done, it gives them an immoral breeding ground and planning time for what their going to
    Do

    [Reply]

  12. Brentfordian
    Posted 08/03/2011 at 17:18 | Permalink

    I’ve no experience of crime other than as a victim, and, happily, only as the recipient of the usual stuff: car break-ins, burglary and graffiti to my business premises.
    As is usual (the statistics notwithstanding) no one was apprehended for any of the crimes. And that, rather than the effectiveness of prison is surely the point? In short, there isn’t any longer any police response apart from the sad little PC letter telling the victim of these ‘minor’ crimes how sorry the police are to hear that one has been a victim.

    Recidivism is rife? Not as rife, I’d guess, as repeated minor crimes by those offenders in whom the police show very little interest. The last graffiti outbreak (Dutch graffiti – the marking of window glass with a spark plug or similar) caused around £25,000 of damage to the shopping parade I trade on. The police response was to tell us all to let them know if we found out who was responsible. The ‘tag’ has subsequently appeared all around the area. What on earth is the incentive for the culprit to stop?

    Well, whoever the chap is he’s benefitting from Ms Hedderman’s philosophy – he’s received no “morally questionable” punishment and the world must thus be a better place – albeit worse for the rest of us.

    Prison should reform or punish? Chance of either would be a fine thing

    [Reply]

  13. Tony
    Posted 08/03/2011 at 08:24 | Permalink

    It’s obvious that prison only works in a handful of cases.

    Better that we acknowledge this and concentrate on stopping people going there in the first place. Create a desire to push forward in life and realise that most of the criminals won’t be like they are if they have boundaries set when young and become worthwhile people in their own right.

    So incarcerate and make prison a bad place to go, not a holiday camp. Push out the message that we don’t want criminals in our society and that there are real alternatives.

    Unfortunately we might have a generation of people who don’t understand this as it requires interaction from birth, but in the long run life will be better for all….

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  14. 25thDerivative
    Posted 07/03/2011 at 17:05 | Permalink

    Short term, a year or less, effectively means half the time is served. The immediate punitive effect would be the removal of liberty. However, as mentioned, the majority of such individuals lose more than the liberty they are deprived of during their sentence. Unless they are extremely fortunate the majority also lose their jobs, if they ever had a job, their homes/one bedroom, and social credibility/trustworthyness. As homeless, unemployed ex-prisoners many are driven through hardship to committing further offences, resultant in further convictions, imprisonment, recidivism and ultimatly institutionalisation. The question of an alternative to short term imprisonment is therefore of importance to society and the individual in question. The proposition of sentencing such individuals to attend educational or training progams, while under probational care, rather than sentencing them imprisonment may be a viable alternative.

    [Reply]

    Mark Timmins Reply:

    Thing is to attract a sentence of that length will still require multiple contacts with the CJS. The offender would have been given numerous benefits of the doubt prior to any short term imprisonment. We already have many alternatives to short term imprisonment. Experience shows that these alternatives do little to nothing for the majority.
    What amazes me is that nobody even considers effective sentencing as an answer any more.

    [Reply]

    25thDerivative Reply:

    Accepted that there would have been varions fines, probation orders, community service orders, etc, before a short term prison sentence is used as a last resort. However, according to Prof Hedderman, above, the short term prison sentence is not the deterrent it is designed to be, whereas, probation orders do seem to result in less re-offending. Therefore, there would seem to be an argument for redesigning the probation order, introducing various levels or degrees of probationary care for instance. Rather than a visit to the probation officer once a week, why not twice a week, or even on a daily basis.
    Also, as far as I am aware, the community service order does not include an education element, nor any skills training. Being used to pick up rubbish in parks etc as the work element of a community service order would instill resentment, not respect. Would the community/society not be better served if a training or education element were introduced to these orders. Such an element would still cost less than a prison sentence, and may even benefit society.

    [Reply]

    Mark Timmins Reply:

    I appreciate what you say in response however more prominent than CSOs, especially for youth offenders, are rehabilitation orders. Education and training are more often than not included within these orders. Again they the terms are breached.

    [Reply]

  15. ray mitchell
    Posted 07/03/2011 at 02:46 | Permalink

    the concerns for a person going to prison has been always one of sympathy.It depends on your wiew of the offender the victim and the crime.Prison was designed to hold persons guilty of offences.Not re train their minds which was developed in the early stages of their life.Punishment is a part of the social contract citizens embarked on.The criminal laws have helped in allowing leverage for the irrational thinkers either due to medical or some other problem the offender may have.Whether serious acts or petty acts the justice process has its course and at the end of this process there is punishment accepted by citizens through the social contract.Prison is the end of the justice process unless researchers can find a way to have rehabilitation become mandatory outside the punitive scope.But punishment have always been the notion for wrong doers and have been refined to remove societies from the barbaric forms of punishment as was back in the early centuries.

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  16. David
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 14:43 | Permalink

    Clive Jude has an extraordinarily compassionate view of criminals. How about a compassionate view of victims? Does he really believe that it would help the criminal if the victims said that they were sorry that they had been the cause of the criminal going to prison? Surely this should be the other way round? I believe there is a benefit to the victim for forgiving a criminal, so that there is some form of closure. However let’s not make the criminal feel better, like he’s being let off by his nice victim.
    Has it occurred to anyone that short sentences are obviously not acting as a deterrent to criminals, and that is why they keep re-offending? To find the level of deterrence, we need to keep increasing the length of the sentences until the level of crime drops. How about that for an idea? I certainly think it’s worth a try. Rehabilitation is not very successful, because it is not what most criminals want.

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  17. Mark Timmins
    Posted 06/03/2011 at 11:19 | Permalink

    I’m sorry but after ten years in the Criminal Justice System (a more apt name I cannot think of) I have seen many of the ‘reforms’ Ms Hedderman promotes. Youth Offending Teams, Persistant Youth Offending provisions, Rehabilitation Orders, Drugs Intervention Programmes, Sex Offender Prevention Orders, CRASBOS, ASBOS and ABC contracts. The success of the reformation of the offender is woeful.
    The easiest prong of reformation to target is Drugs Intervention. At a cost well into the billions to the public purse, they successfully reform 4% of the clientel that come their way. A good use of public money or a complete waste thrown after people who have no interest in becoming part of a society?
    We see the same people over and over and over again coming into custody and creating more victims of crime. At every turn they are given the soft touch, the easy option, the approach of reform. Every time they turn their nose up at it. Success in these areas is so minimal yet we persist in throwing billion after billion at the idea that if we’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to us. It is utter rubbish.
    Youth offenders subject of rehabilitation orders breach them again and again. Offenders released from prison early constantly recalled because they keep breaching the conditions of their license. It is a monumental waste of time and money to keep chasing the rainbow of reform.
    This response is somewhat truncated due to my spending time with my family. But I can say one thing, knowing what I know and seeing what I see I genuinely fear for the future of this country in terms of dealing with criminals.

    [Reply]

    nicola jarvis Reply:

    i could hear a lot of rational in Mark’s reply. i thought also where someone commented about prisons not being a place to educate and that education occurred in the formative years. certainly some families cannot be changed or will ever have any regard for morality, decency or other codes of society and its heartrending to see infants who are destined to follow the same footsteps especially if there was a spark in the first place that could have been pointed in the right direction. these families tend to live close together, to formulate plans of actions, to work as a “crew” and to bind the criminal fraternity, and there are only a few out of these families who escape the clutches. its similar to generational abuse, very difficult to change and easier to accept. maybe this is where the progress has to be made first.

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  18. Posted 05/03/2011 at 14:30 | Permalink

    It is an interesting leap in the argument that you move from ‘should we punish or reform’ to the ‘desired effect’ of making society safer. I am not sure that is entirely legitimate.
    The reason that societies punish offenders is not necessarily to make society safer. Official punishment is a displaced act of revenge, where the state stands in for the victim, on the understanding that the crime is not just against the individual, but the whole community.
    Many reformers have tried to shed this fundamental origin of punishment in vengeance, but it is not really possible. As a thought experiment, you could abandon the relation between incarceration and crime altogether, and lock up those who are a potential threat in the future.
    But to achieve that one would have to be able to see into the future, which no society ever has. One could imagine such a system abandoning civil rights entirely in favour of the goal of ‘safety’ – but most people understand that such a plan is more or less insane.
    So what we are left with is the imperfect system of punishing people after they have committed crimes – a kind of reversed system of exchange, where the price is exacted after the injury has been done.
    To put the matter at its most pointed, we do not lock up criminals for the good of society, but because we honour the seriousness of their choices. If somebody commits a crime, society fails them if it does not answer in kind.
    Of course, none of this suggests that prison itself should be harsh or unpleasant. No need to make people pick oakum or walk on wheels. The loss of liberty itself is the punishment.
    Nor indeed does belief in punishment mean that you have to abandon rehabilitation. As an ancillary, welfare policy, helping offenders to prepare for their release is a good aim – as long as it is voluntarily undertaken.
    But reforming people, to make them fit society’s moral outlook – that is the recipe for a totalitarian state.

    [Reply]

    Graham Rippon Reply:

    I very much agree with the main points of this argument, but I don’t think we’ve really sorted out the role of prison in this “enlightened” 21st century. What should prison achieve? I suggest:

    1. Punishment. This simply must be a factor. If it isn’t then what is the point? However, the public does receive an impression that it might not be punishment. Prisoners may well be subject to restrictions, but they can have better accomodation than on the “outside” and service worthy of a hotel, and they can have educational opportunities denied by cost to good citizens.
    2: Rehabilitation. This must be a key plank. Prisoners should be returned to society with a promise of being a useful member of society and do good for themselves and their families. But what does rehabilitation mean? and can it discriminate against good citizens? I ask the question because I heard about an organisation that finds jobs, successfully, for ex-prisoners – but this is in a region with high unemployment, where thousands of people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and don’t get the same dedicated support. I think this is a symptom of a wider problem in Britain in many areas – those who pay their way will receive the least reward, will be the least regarded by the State and will pay most of the costs of the State.
    3: Reformed: But in whose image? The point is well made that true “reformation” might mean a totalitarian State.

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    Peter Cusack Reply:

    As far as I understand, prisons are warehouses for people to stop them in their tracks from being horrible to the community at large.

    There is no punishment or rehabilitation involved. A proportion of criminals are kept off the streets. They get back on the streets after their sentence at the same time as others are going in to prison.

    As long as enough people who should be in prison are there, and the police are around to keep order, we have a relatively safe society.

    Penology cannot be treated as an isolated study as there are so many variables outside of it.

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  19. Chris Williams
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 11:53 | Permalink

    Unless all of us are potential criminals without the fear of prison then it is not doing a very good job as we have the most prisoners in Europe. Punishment is a component of reform but when the individual ceases to fear punishment it becomes ineffective. Prison is a good tool for restraint and public protection but less effective as punishment. This would imply that it should be used only for long sentences designed for public protection. Transportation served this purpose well and gave the individuals an eventual chance for a fresh start in a new society. As always, it was not always applied sensibly or justly and today it may be hard to find suitable locations.

    There is no universal solution other than building a cohesive society which is both difficult and expensive when it has become divisive. A study of Japanese society over the last 50 years sheds light on this problem.

    Apologies if this is posted twice. I am getting inappropriate warning messages

    [Reply]

    nicola jarvis Reply:

    – i am pasting Chris Williams reply – Unless all of us are potential criminals without the fear of prison then it is not doing a very good job as we have the most prisoners in Europe. Punishment is a component of reform but when the individual ceases to fear punishment it becomes ineffective. Prison is a good tool for restraint and public protection but less effective as punishment. This would imply that it should be used only for long sentences designed for public protection – as the way i see it, if a child has already been conditioned to accept harshness and punitive measures as a major component of his life then by the time he is an adult, and more than likely before, he is already primed to respond or behave in a manner which is believing he is outside of society, or of its responses towards him …and possibly cannot comprehend or care about the consequences of his actions

    [Reply]

  20. Chris Williams
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 11:51 | Permalink

    Unless all of us are potential criminals without the fear of prison then it is not doing a very good job as we have the most prisoners in Europe. Punishment is a component of reform but when the individual ceases to fear punishment it becomes ineffective. Prison is a good tool for restraint and public protection but less effective as punishment. This would imply that it should be used only for long sentences designed for public protection. Transportation served this purpose well and gave the individuals an eventual chance for a fresh start in a new society. As always, it was not always applied sensibly or justly and today it may be hard to find suitable locations.

    There is no universal solution other than building a cohesive society which is both difficult and expensive when it has become divisive. A study of Japanese society over the last 50 years sheds light on this problem.

    [Reply]

  21. Posted 05/03/2011 at 10:12 | Permalink

    Inflicting undue suffering is not morally defensible. What is undue, is unjust. There will always be suffering in the pursuit of justice but it is our responsibility to minimise it.

    It may be necessary to indicate that the prison reform system at present is centred on a socio-economic imperative that benefits the economic elite. (One is likely to be given a prison sentence that is longer for tax evasion as opposed to murder or torture).

    I agree that prisons are often just places for ‘dumping’ the mal-adjusted and alienated (and often vulnerable) of society as well as legitimate dangerous individuals, a combination that is a powder-keg of criminal escalation. It is this mix of extremities that is an active catalyst operating directly contrary to the very premise of ‘reform’. In this way, prisons are not much more than ‘holding pens’ for many criminals, who, once out, receive no after-care or ‘reintegration’ into society – and essential step in any true and serious reform process.
    It is not only the prison system that needs reform but the entire judicial system and therefore the way politics itself is practiced in this country – it is out-moded and out-dated. It addresses hypothetical problems instead of ‘real-time’ ones, it does not value contingency planning – an essential requirement for effective resource management…this is strongly reflected in the effectiveness of our criminal justice system.

    The solution is both pragmatic and obvious; a rank system that deals with ‘modes’ of criminality so that reform can be a real and effective process, rather than one of hypothesis. Convicts, separated by an assessment system that identifies their weaknesses (aspects that would prevent or hinder reform/reintegration) should be given an active chance to participate in their own reform in order to regain a sense of responsibility and respect from society and for themselves; – this would take place though ‘residential work-placement schemes’ based on the assessment system (we are not allowed to say ‘work camp’ anymore are we?)
    The work-schemes would be structured very much like prisons, including security and regimentation of lifestyle, but they would also be subject to a social and military element that would otherwise be absent from present institutions. Instead of spending most of the day in what is effectively a cage, prisoners would engage in full-time industrial work such as production. They work would be very demanding but the inmates would have regular contact with social influences, authority figures, from whom they can learn useful values. This would support the economy whilst simultaneously giving the inmates a sense of purpose, achievement and prospect once their sentence is served.

    Whilst probation may be effective for some forms of crime (white collar crime or some youth offences for instance) it may be more useful to present offenders with a situation that instigates change in their value system, rather than having them under big-brother style ‘surveillance’ which brings up another set of issues altogether! Whilst there is certainly evidence to show that probation is more effective than standard incarceration in some cases, there are yet more effective methods to deal with the problem.

    As for mental illness in prison; there appears to be a lack of distinction between the effects of alienation from society (which can of course, be a causative factor of mental illness) and a distinct lack of values or comprehension of values, which to the well-adjusted individual, may manifest as a form of ‘pseudo-mental illness’.
    Many prisoners present with depression, psychopathy, sociopathy, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders – many of which may not have an actual clinical basis or cause but instead are attributed to the offenders by persons with values that do not show much comprehension of criminal psychology.

    As a student currently studying biochemistry, I would risk the hypothesis that many prisoners lack the intake of a regular full complement of non-essential amino acids that they do not get from a diet in prison, furthermore, the regulation of drug-abuse in prisons is not as effective as necessary and drugs can both induce episodes of mental ill-health and depress physiological health/significantly disturb natural biochemistry – leading to…mental illness. I would risk a reputation that many prisoners come to prison malnourished and leave, malnourished. If I finish my degree, I would seek to prove this.
    I am aware of the profound effect that a lack of direct exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) for several hours, can have on the immune system and on the chemical basis of mental health. Education and regular physical activity are essential to health, not lifestyle choices. If prisoners are not physically healthy they are far less likely to be mentally healthy! Physical health does not involve being very well fed or well muscled, it does not involve being slim – it is a balance of activity, nutrition and self-responsibility (both physical and mental). – (Simply sticking prisoners on scales, measuring B.M.I and if you’re too fat, ‘go do some laps laddie! -oh, and here’s your five-a-day’ is not representative of an effective health plan! If the inmates fatty acid metabolism is poor – as it often is with individuals suffering from depressive symptoms for example, or they are anaemic or have electrolyte imbalance – simply losing weight is only superficial! )

    The residential work-scheme hypothesis, would give offenders the opportunity to grow their own food, participate in their own health by actively addressing and managing any illnesses they do have and learn to turn their potential to productive ends which benefit both themselves and society.

    Regards, Alex

    [Reply]

    25thDerivative Reply:

    Pragmatic and obvious? There is already in place a ranking system whereby convicted criminals are placed in ranks of ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ or ‘D’ category prisons, dependent upon; leanth of sentence, the category of crime committed, and assessed personality type. As for residential work places, I believe they are called prisons, and within their walls the residents/prisoners have been sowing mail bags for generation. There are numerous manufacturing contracts in place in all prisons, and some ‘D’ category prisons have farming aspects. The government actively promotes the idea of running prisons at a profit and I believe one or two actually do make profit. The proposition of having military type regementation and demanding work, is effectively ‘Hard Labour’ and could constitute what the chinese call re-education. The cost of implimenting such a hands on personal assessment and labour intensive scheme in prohibitive, the reason for many prisoners being behind bars for most of the day being the cost of manning an open regime. There is also the difficulty of procuring high calibre staff with the dedication required to commit themselves to the job in question. Convicted criminals are not to be trusted! Nor do the majority make for good social contacts.
    The majority of prisons do have education programs and therein may be the key to reform, hard graft and regementation makes for unthinking robots.

    [Reply]

    25thDerivative Reply:

    To continue, The idea that individuals forced into hard labour within military regimentaion would instill respect is arguably absurd. It is, rather, reasonable to conclude that regimentation and hard labour would instill resentment, not respect. Rather, education, to BA or even PhD standards if capable, may instill within the convicted criminal respect for himself as well as respect for, and a better understanding of, the social structure they are a part of. Do not assume convicted criminals are stupid, some are extremely intellegent.
    From a dietry perspective, prisoners are now able to chose whether they eat a’normal’ diet, a vegitarian diet, and may apply for a Vegan diet. All diets meet dietry specifications, as worked out by a dietitian. The standard of food preperation in many prisons is very high, many prison chefs being ex-armed forces. Therefore well able to prepare food for 1000 inmates at a sitting.
    So, what is prison for? The answer is not either or, that is, prison is not solely to punish, nor solely to reform, rather there must be a measure of both. The removal of liberty is punishment, it is how to reform that poses the difficulty. Some would propose regimentation and hard labour, thus punishing while hoping to reform, I argue that such a regime would instill resentment not respect. As previoously mentioned, the key to reforming criminal behaviour is education. However there are those who see education as a privilage and would deny convicted criminals such privilages, proposing simply to punish. If the purpose of prison is in part to reform then education would benefit the individual and the society they are a part of.

    [Reply]

    nicola jarvis Reply:

    excellent response Alex, all the way thro and something that needs to be tackled as early as possible to reduce the likelihood of the body encouraging the mind to respond … given that a majority of teenage/young adults strive to eat haphazardly/badly/ill-timed/ by way of watching the body language and actions of those entering the Jamie Oliver education program its possible a majority of those were not eating and maintaining what their body needed

    [Reply]

  22. bishopmead
    Posted 05/03/2011 at 00:27 | Permalink

    As posted elsewhere . . . with perhaps the addition that where offenders are demonstrably mentally ill perhaps they should be housed in secure treatment units until such time as they no longer pose a risk of re-offending. One may argue that this would possibly infringe their human rights; however we should certainly protect the rights of victims (and potential victims) also.

    Should we perhaps consider a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, tailoring sentencing to the individual criminal rather than to the crime? The hardened habitual criminal who has no intention of being reformed could then be incarcerated for the protection of the public, whereas the offender that can embrace rehabilitation with suitable education and training would serve a non-custodial sentence on condition of adequate performance. Prison would then become a place of punishment (with less comfortable conditions and fewer privileges than at present). Maybe a return to more punitive conditions would make habitual criminals think twice, whereas the misguided and “accidental” offender should achieve rehabilitation. It may be more expensive in staffing levels, however the objective should surely be to reduce the prison population and to re-educate offenders; not continually increase the number of prison places to accommodate a growing offending population.

    [Reply]

  23. Spectator1
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 21:31 | Permalink

    Interesting piece but it ignores the concept that prison may deter people from offending. Clearly the threat of the deprivation of liberty is effective in deterring crime.

    [Reply]

    moderatorchris Reply:

    Anybody want to take this on further or challenge?

    [Reply]

    25thDerivative Reply:

    As outlined on another comment; Sociological research supports the proposition that becoming a Father or Mother has a positive socialising effect, that is, those who were willing to risk imprisonment for monetary gain previous to having a child, or becoming a family, are less prone to committing crimes once they have, in effect, become a family. Therefore, although the fear if incarceation does deter, there are other issues. Being labelled as a single person does not seem to be half the deterrent as the fear of ones child, or family, being labelled as a result of an act committed by oneself. The moral deterrent would seem to be stronger if hurting ones children is included in the equation. Although obviously not in every case. Career criminals being an obvious exception.

    [Reply]

    Jane Reply:

    Can this not be explained by the fact that as people get older they tend to abandon their former criminal ways – evidenced by the youthful age of prisoners compared to the whole male population – rather than the influence of parenthood?

    [Reply]

    25thDerivative Reply:

    In some cases perhaps, but not all. The majority of prisoners are young, older prisoners being middle aged single males, or career criminals with wives and children. A possible reason for younger males being the majority in the prison population is perhaps that they have not yet formed commitments within a relationship, whereby children have been a resultant factor, because they are too young to have done so. However, as people tend to commit themselves to lasting relationships as they get older, it is possible that the relationship, the possibility of children and thereby a different lifestyle, one of commitment to the family happens, and the old lifestyle wherein crime is a part is left behind, because gradually there evolves more to life, others who matter, others who love and are dependent upon the individual in question.

    [Reply]

    nicola jarvis Reply:

    or as an alternative to Jane’s reply, there is a big gap between those with material possessions or homes or some sense of stability between the two age gaps…ie youth to young man versus 30s and onwards when you are more likely to have maturity, experience and or family/support – what does a youth have to lose, if he is imprisoned, very little, against what the older generation who has roots in the community (respect/standing/employment etc)

    [Reply]

  24. Clive Jude
    Posted 04/03/2011 at 17:40 | Permalink

    A rather short one really. I strongly believe that if we regard ourselves as a compassionate society we should do all we can to reform offenders. One of the biggest things that may go a long way towards reform would be if the victims could be shown and encouraged to find forgiveness for the offence. Perhaps difficult, but very worthwhile.

    [Reply]

    Peter Cusack Reply:

    Offenders are grown ups. A grown up needs to want to be changed. If they do not want to change no amount of attempted reform will make any difference.

    [Reply]

    Jane Reply:

    I believe that a compassionate society pays more heed to the hurt done to the victim. Government takes the right to retribution for wrongs done from the individual victim and as a quid pro quo takes upon itself the obligation of exacting punishment. Where the general population comes to believe that criminals are not properly punished, especially for heinous crimes against the person, then this has a direct and negative impact on the ‘social contract’between Govt and the electorate leading to a weakening of social cohesion and of respect for the law.

    [Reply]

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