Trial and Retribution

Saturday 9th June 2007

There was a story on the BBC a while ago about a 74-year-old man. He’d been in prison a few times, had an alcohol problem, and was basically in a bad state. So he decided to do something about it to sort himself out: he walked into a bank, demanded they hand over some money, and walked back out. He did this with the sole intention of being sent back to prison.

As a society, we seem to demand that criminals be punished, above all else. We feel that if someone wrongs us, we should get our own back or avenge the victims somehow. Whilst I can understand that perspective, I’m not sure that it’s always the most worthwhile way of going about dealing with people who commit a crime.

I don’t think that we should be looking to punish the vast number of criminals. For people who commit “serious” crimes (like rape, murder, voting for the Liberal Democrats), then we should definitely be looking to punish them, and to be honest prison is probably the best way of doing that. But what about other, less serious crimes, like theft? Is prison always the answer?

Well, what are prisons? Essentially, they’re societies full of criminals; places where crime is accepted as “normal”. So if we send someone there, we probably shouldn’t be surprised if they reoffend once they leave. If a first time offender spends, say, six months locked away with other people who may have been in and out of prison all through their lives, then are they likely to start afresh when they leave, or are they just going to pick up tips and tricks off the more experienced criminals, so that they think there’s less chance of them being caught again?

I think that instead of just seeking to “punish” people who commit crimes, we should try to do more. If we, for instance, look at why they commit them and try to remove the circumstances that cause people to commit a crime, then perhaps people will feel less inclined to reoffend (or possibly offend in the first place, in some cases). Like with the man in the story I linked to – if someone was around to help him sort his life out (either in prison or after he left), he possibly wouldn’t have robbed the bank.

Of course, there is a certain question of limits as well. For instance how far do we go in “correcting” a criminal (I’m guessing something like the Ludovico technique would be off-limits), and for what level of severity of crime do we stop trying to help someone, and focus purely on punitive measures?

Given the level of overcrowding in British prisons at the moment, it would probably be worth there being a massive shakeup in the way we deal with criminals. But I suppose “helping” people is a harder option than just bunging them in prison, and possibly pretty unacceptable to the tabloid-reading portion of society…

Posted at 10:25 pm | Posted In: Politics Tagged:

1 Comment:


Sunday 10th June 2007, 5:20 am

You raise some very good points. What with the prison population what it is, it really can’t hurt to try something else, especially if people are robbing banks just to get sent down.

It’s tricky.

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