Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Finishing your sentences

This whole mess is actually over something quite simple, so here we go:

Life means life.

Now let's be clear about this, I'm not talking about changing sentences, I'm not talking about increasing sentences, and I'm not talking about how awful our legal system is or isn't or anything like that. All I'm asking for is for criminals to get given a sentence, and then actually serve it.

Simple eh? Don't call it life it is isn't going to be life. And if that means that we give murderers ten years not life, that's ok, because at least they get what they're given. If that means that we then have to decide whether we're ok with the idea of giving murderers only ten years in jail, that's fine, but let's get to that bridge later, right?

What we really don't need is someone getting life, but being told they might be out in five years. Probably won't, but might. It doesn't send a clear message at all - even though they may never leave prison, everyone else thinks they'll be out in five. That doesn't help, it really doesn't.

Whether or not our legal system is a complete mess or not, is absolutely not the issue here. The issue is as simple as saying one thing when we mean another. Get that sorted first, and a very large problem is solved overnight. Thing is, once this mess is out of the way, you can get to the heart of the sentencing debate and start to look at the really important issues like mandatory minimum sentences and what we should really be doing with dangerous repeat offenders.

It's only a small step, but boy, what a necessary one.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Sort of agree, definately think sentencing reform is needed. As Tim observes , if you're released on licence (which is all you can be from a life sentence), then you can be recalled at any point; the minimum tariff is just that. Reid is playing to the gallery, the tabloids are overblowing things, and the basic principles of an independent judiciary and the rule of law get thrown out the window.

Populist authoritarianism and the Home Secretary overtepping his departmental brief and criticising a judge for following Govt policy. Innit wonderful? 

Posted by MatGB

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mat that Reid is playing to the gallery, and am attracted to Paul's call for more accurate statements of sentencing. However there should be some flexibility, so that demonstrations of trying to reform mean being locked up for less time than being totally unrepentant. There must be some immediate incentive for rehabilitation in the system. 

Posted by chris

Anonymous said...

There must be some immediate incentive for rehabilitation in the system.  

Are you sure you're a frothing at the mouth right winger? I agree completely BTW. 

Posted by MatGB

Anonymous said...

There must be some immediate incentive for rehabilitation in the system. 

I also agree, and in most cases I still think you can do that through education whilst in prison and giving 'good' prisioners more priviledges and striving to give them a chance when they do leave prision.

Obviously this becomes less easy the longer the prison sentence. But then each case should be looked at on an individual basis anyway - if one murderer shows genuine remorse for their crime, then arguably they should serve a lesser sentence in the first place. Those who reform whilst in prison may benefit from day-release or more 'perks' but I'm not sure they should have their sentences reduced.

Worst thing you can do with a child is tell it it can't have something then give in later due to persistent pressure. What message does that send to the child? Ditto for prisoners; whilst some prisoners do change and may benefit from early release, we also know there are many prisoners (especially minor crime repeat offenders) who play nice by playing the system in prison in order to get out as soon as possible.

Fundamentally, I'm still not sure that prison is the best place for many offenders anyway, but whilst we have the system (and I doubt many would approve of closing prisons in favour of 'softer' measures), it needs to be adhered to as best as possible.  

Posted by PaulJ