Monday, 19 June 2006

Services to Society

“Ministers who are prepared to take the brutal approach to penal policy contribute to the general brutalisation of society”, says Roy Hattersley. [1]
.....It is well to be clear, however, in what sense Mr Hattersley sees fit to recast the meaning of the word “brutal”; for thereby it is “brutal” to lock up a mugger for longer than, say, two years or a murderer for longer than fifteen. On the other hand, letting the brutes out on early release has only a calming effect on society, as they typically set about serving Camomile tea and running charity tombolas.

[1] Roy Hattersley, “Against truth and logicThe Guardian, 19th June 2006.


dearieme said...

When our daughter was a toddler she had a toy that was a little mechanical clown that clattered and, whenever you pushed it over, it jumped up again and carried on clattering. We called it Hattersley.

Cirdan said...

Hattersley is pointing out, rightly, that government, by sentencing offenders disproportionally harshly, can be brutal too.

UK crime rates have fallen since 1993, both absolutely and comparatively. The prison population in England and Wales has exploded; it's now at 143 per 100,000 - the highest in W/Europe. The average length of a custodial sentence is now 27 months, up from 20 months in 1994. The number of lifers has doubled since 1994. ( & Yahoo). In short, there isn't a serious argument from the data for harsher sentences in general. (One could, maybe, argue that sentencing for some offences could be higher)

Politicians probably know this. If they don't, they should. To support longer and more intense punishments when weaker ones will suffice just is brutal. Hattersley makes an eminently reasonable case that that's precisely what's happening. That convicted criminals sometimes reoffend, doesn't begin to justify administrative brutality.

niconoclast said...

Of course the prison population has exploded -it's like a holiday camp in there.Give me a week to reform this cosy little prison environment and you wouldn't have the criminals coming back for more.

'Lifers' sounds good till you remember 'life' can mean out in under 10 years.

My dream is for the likes of Mad Hattersly and cirdan to be on the receiving end of some of the brutal treatment of the thugs they seek to pander to.

Anonymous said...

'Niconoclast' has beaten me to it. I must say I have grown to expect slightly more rigour in comments from 'Cirdan', in fact, I think he and Hattersley deserve two years apiece for wanton brutality to the harmless word 'brutal'!

Cirdan said...

Niconoclast. The number of people in prison has increased. The number of crimes committed has fallen. It's reasonable to think that imprisonment (and fear of it) is deterring crime. Your claim that they're holiday camps is probably false.

More importantly, I think you're confused about punishment. Punishment is (probably) harm inflicted by proper authority on persons who break known norms. There are good arguments, which I needn't go into here, for the conclusion that punishment is warranted. But what of its severity? Commonsense suggests that people should get the punishment they ‘deserve’. That’s to say that the punishment should be as severe a harm to the perpetrator as it was to the victim. Commonsense is wrong. In very many cases it’s clearly impossible to do the harm to the perpetrator that he did to the victim. There is nothing we can do to the mass-murderer which matches his crime.

All this by way of suggesting:
1. you’re unlikely to gain satisfaction in your quest for fitting punishment.
2. It’s a mug’s game to give the state more power to do that which it cannot do.
3. Since it’s brutal to punish severely when a milder punishment would serve justice just as well, Hattersley is quite right.

Deogolwulf said...

What rot, Cirdan. Why you feel the need to defend Hattersley in his abuse of words, I do not know.

How anyone can suggest that the lax sentencing in this country is "brutal" is beyond me. Is it not an abuse of the word "brutal" to suggest that it is brutal to put a man in prison for a year or two for beating someone to within an inch of his life? You are presumably having a joke with me. You'll be telling me next that champagne picnics are on the whole a little harsh.