Thursday, 1 December 2016

Letter From the UK (About Prisons)

Fifty Years of 'Enlightened' Jails

Peter Hitchens
Daily Mail Australia

Modern politicians don’t like taking responsibility for anything difficult. They hate the idea that you sometimes have to punish people. That’s understandable. Locking people up and making them work hard and do as they’re told isn’t very nice.

But if you can’t bear the burden, then don’t seek paid public office. These nasty tasks are the most basic duty of the State. If it won’t protect us from the wicked, then we might as well wind it up.
We have disarmed in the face of danger. Until about 50 years ago, the stated aim of prisons was ‘the due punishment of responsible persons’. Under a clear criminal code, most crooks and most louts were scared of prison and tried not to go there. It wasn’t some savage place of torture and beatings.

By world standards our prisons were very civilised. But they were austere, disciplined and under the control of the authorities.
 Then along came the liberal modernisers. Police were turned into paramilitary social workers, soft on crime, tough on professors’ wives trying to stop trees being cut down.

Judges were no longer allowed to punish anyone without checking first to see if they’d had a horrid childhood. Voluntary drug abuse was treated as an unavoidable disease, rather than as the crime it is.
How the criminals laughed. Prisons were transformed into apologetic, weakly run places where something called ‘rehabilitation’ would supposedly happen. It never has.
The point of prison was to scare people away from doing things they knew would put them there. Nobody had any fancy ideas about changing the hearts and minds of those who were actually locked up.  With a bit of luck they wouldn’t want to go back, but if they did, there was room.

It worked. In 1950-51, the prison population of England and Wales was 20,474. Even ten years later it was a manageable 27,099. Then along came the enlightened ones. By 1980, the total was almost 40,000. By 1999, the same approach (plus lots of unpaid fines, cautions and community service) had taken it to nearly 65,000. Now it is a little more than 85,000.

These places are far from being ‘holiday camps’. That is not the problem. Many of them are terrifying because the authorities have lost control, and the nastiest inmates are in charge.

I often wonder how those who are so squeamish about executing a few vicious murderers feel about the monstrous annual tally of despair – the prison suicide rate, now more than 100 a year.

But our bulging prisons are full in spite of huge numbers of crimes not reported because nobody is interested, of crimes ignored by the police, of offenders cautioned but not arrested, of ‘restorative justice’, of decisions not to prosecute by the CPS, suspended sentences, probation orders, automatically halved sentences, tagging and other devices for keeping criminals out of prison.

It’s quite simple. The feebler you are, the more crime you get.  And in the end the crime so outstrips the space in prisons that you more or less give up. That is what we have done.  And if we don’t rediscover our nerve, our prisons and our country are heading fast towards the Third World, but without the sunshine and the beaches.

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