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Mick Temple's Blog

....AND THROW AWAY THE KEY

07-12-2007

fence

In the row about prison overcrowding, Mick Temple looks for the missing dimension - the victims of crime. Blimey, is he angling for a contract with The Sun?

Move over Mad Melanie Phillips, ‘Gaunty’ and Richard Littlejohn. I never thought I’d say this, but let me on to your platform of knee-jerk, populist propagandists. I’m speaking from the gut this week.

The Prison Reform Trust tells us that our prison service is in crisis. Apparently, our jails are so full they make a rush-hour train journey on Virgin seem like a siesta in the stands when Port Vale play Gillingham. Alarmingly, the Trust tells us the social and economic costs of our overcrowded prisons are now too much to bear. They’re lobbying government to keep prison only for offenders where there is no alternative.

Now, I’m not going to argue that rehabilitation and reform shouldn’t be an essential element of prison. I don’t think locking up vulnerable people in dilapidated prisons is a good idea. And I don’t want children deprived of their parents.

But the old-fashioned notion of ‘punishment’ seems to have been lost in this debate – and punishment is at least partly what prison must be about. Most of the alternatives to custody have an important defect – they fail to deter or punish the criminal.

There are masses of crimes I would not use prison for, too many to list here, but crimes such as the possession of drugs are high on that list. But there is one criminal type who should be offered no alternative to incarceration.

I don’t want to come over all Jeremy Clarkson (cue for an ‘ooh-err missus’ or ‘fnarr, fnarr; from Finbar Saunders) but I’d make prison mandatory for ALL crimes of violence. In such cases I barely care whether prison reforms – I don’t want such people on the streets. It might be me or my family they attack next time.

I don’t care about their abused backgrounds, I don’t care about their psychological problems. By all means try and give them all the help we’d give any other individual with problems - but get them away from me and my family!

I hesitate to use unscientific and essentially anecdotal evidence, but regularly in our local papers there are stories of people with histories of violence pushing beer glasses into faces and receiving community service orders or suspended sentences – while some sad junkie who shoplifts a bottle of bleach gets six months.

Brutally, it boils down to this – lock up violent criminals for a long time and use prison for other offenders as a last resort. And don’t be ashamed of the concept of ‘punishment’. There, I feel better now.

Is Mick right to advocate mandatory prison for all violent criminals?

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