Tough Option – alternative to prison

The police should be respected and thanked for stopping criminals who are a danger to others, and bringing them to face a court of law. Once the jury have weighed up the evidence and if their decision is guilty, then the judge has to sentence them. The easy option is the most expensive: send them to prison. “Out of sight, out of mind.” But why send non-violent offenders who are not a threat to the public, to prison? There should be a much tougher option for judges.

When a non-violent offender is sent to prison, the suspicion is that the criminal justice system is self-perpetuating itself, because the likelihood is that the offender, mixing with worse offenders, will by osmosis gain criminal intent and certainly criminal contacts and is more likely to re-offend; providing more work for those who apprehend criminals (police), those who arraign and sentence them (lawyers) and those who lock them away (prison officers).

The politicians chose the easy option, because they are cautious of trying something new in a notoriously difficult arena for ideas to move on. Ordinary people have to pay twice over – for the expensive prison system and then having to face the tougher and better networked criminals who come out of it.

So why shouldn’t non-violent offenders have to pay, by keeping down their jobs, paying taxes and then working on their days off. This will stop them from burdening the taxpayer, allow them to keep up their responsibilities to families and employers and be occupied in the time when they might be getting in to trouble.

The easy option (prison) provides offenders with food, shelter, clothing and company. Prison regimes are necessarily dominated by psychopaths, because those who look after them have to be protected from the predators’ tendencies. Prisons are now so over-crowded that efforts to re-habilitate are valiant but extremely difficult to achieve. The churn of moving prisoners from one prison to another also works against progress and rehabilitation.

There is no alternative to prison, at the moment, for hardened offenders who will use violence to get their own way. However, to place non-violent offenders in such a system can only lure increasing numbers into bad man behaviour.

The tough option needs to take as its starting point the rehabilitation of offenders. This must engage them in understanding moral codes of behaviour in the real world, equipping them with skills to work and broaden their horizons so they have confidence to achieve. Offenders should also pay for their crime through work reparations (rather than making victims pay, through taxation to support our prison system, which is our current position).

Flexible Sentencing

Prison should be a place where fewer people go. They would be places only for those who are a danger to society, not for those who have done wrong, but pose no threat.

 Check out Howard League for Penal Reform

Most offenders would then be expected to repay society for their crime. To make this work for society’s benefit, flexible sentencing should be introduced. This will mean sentences take longer to complete, but their flexible nature will allow offenders to maintain jobs, homes and families; as well as paying taxes and working to repay their debts to the wider community.

What useful work could offenders, serving their sentences in the community, fulfil? There are literally dozens of tasks involving repair and maintenance of public assets. Local authorities need support in their duty to “maintain” what we have: our public buildings, roads, street furniture, public spaces, parks, health and care facilities. All of these are constantly under stress from a lack of investment, a shortage of labour.

This cannot be a cheap option. The rehabilitation of offenders must administer a flexible system of sentencing and real work done by trained and motivated participants. Ultimately there should be substantial savings, but the new system needs to be clear cut, with tough rules and regulations for those who buck the system (short spells inside prison), and support for those offenders who are unemployed by giving them options to gain qualifications and change their way.

There is no panacea for dealing with offenders. People have done wrong and will continue to do wrong. However the evidence is very clear, most people are rehabilitated. The evidence goes back a long way – from one of the oldest historical records: the bible. Both Moses and David were murderers and both of them went on to lead interesting and fruitful lives.  Why have we developed a mind-set that supports a system that is extremely expensive, actively cultivates criminals to increase the intensity and level of their offences, makes the victims pay for it, and then has the gall to suggest the solution is to send more people to prison? We need more rigorous approaches to dealing with offenders to make our communities a safer place to live in.

Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds and bars are burst

Set the captives Free

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