Until I read remarks made by Chris Philp, I had no idea we had a minister responsible for sentencing. I gather that he is also minister for immigration compliance, although the precise particulars of such a grave and weighty post have not been made clear. However, it looks good on his CV.
The redoubtable Philp is in the news for saying that longer sentences of imprisonment do not help in cutting crime. Not exactly a revelation of damascene proportions, and certainly not in the party manifesto, but true nonetheless. Like so many others, I have known for many years that locking up offenders for ever and a day may work amongst the ‘hang ’em high’ brigade, but it achieves nothing of value.
I remember, some years ago, chairing a meeting of respectable ‘law abiding’ citizens to debate capital punishment. It achieved very little. I recall one comment from the back row: ‘if you hang them, they won’t do it again’, and there was a murmur of approval.
There are two competing interests in this debate. The first, widely debunked, is that lengthy sentences of imprisonment will deter others from offending. Nonsense! The only effective deterrent in the criminal justice system is the fear of being caught, so better public protection is the key.
I have been to many prisons in my time as a practising barrister, and I am struck by the dehumanising atmosphere of the prison system, the appalling annual expense of keeping prisoners locked up, currently running at £43,000, and the failure of the system to put these captive audiences to better use, which is nothing short of a disgrace. Once governments, and their mouthpieces the judiciary, understand that if you treat human beings like animals, they will behave like animals, then some progress can be made in achieving the standards of decency and rehabilitation which surely, in a civilised society, should be the goal.