Crime and punishment revisited

I find it really sad to listen to the radio sometimes. Today I heard so much twaddle, I had to turn it off. Again.

There are politicians who are honourable and quite bright, but they do appear to be few and far between. Some, like Ken Clarke, are pretty unambiguous in their opinions, and he deserves to be derided for many things. Making money out of flogging cigarettes, for example; his ludicrous determination to see Britain reduced to a principality in a French and German rules Europe without the option for the British people to have any say in whether they want to be subsumed into this new undemocratic monster.

Yes, I could have a go at him for so many things. But for his prison policies? No.

What he wants is to see prisons start to work, from all I can see. So, he has suggested that there are too many folks in prison now.

I can’t argue with that. When Margaret Thatcher came to power, apparently the prison population was about twenty thousand. Now? Forty years on, and there are some ninety thousand in gaol.

Why is that? Can it be that there are now more than four times the criminals who deserve to end up behind bars? I sort of find that hard to believe. In fact, I think it’s crap.

If there are that many more in prisons, could it not be because the remedies for crimes are not working? Yup. And there is a significant risk that there are too many things being made illegal to force people into prison.

In the House of Commons there is a corridor that leads into the main discussion chamber. On one side are all the laws, neatly arranged, which were laid down up until the beginning of the last century. It is a full wall.

On the opposite wall is a second series of shelves, which are already full. These are the laws made in the last hundred years.

That is where the problems lie. It’s the sheer quantity of laws that are now required. After all, any new government coming in automatically assumes that it must create new laws. It is a sign of political virility, to create laws to impede people and businesses. Men and women must be controlled in order that they adhere to whatever new policies are stated to be required by our politicians. And the British tend to accept it.

We agree to have our liberties eroded and curtailed so that we might live quietly in peace. We agree that we must be taxed to the hilt so that the state can have more unproductive people in secure jobs to monitor what we do and how. We don’t care that there are not enough people creating things and selling things to pay enough in taxes to justify all these ‘civil servants’. No, we accept the cost as a function of our servility.

It was naturally correct that, when a police force failed to control firearms certificates in accordance with the law, only those firearms owned by police-checked, law-abiding olympic and Commonwealth sport enthusiasts should have their guns taken away. We agree that because some school-age children stab each other with large-bladed dangerous weapons, therefore all pocket knives with locking blades (ie the ones safe to use for cutting) should be made illegal. Or that those who have a dog which looks sort of like a Staffordshire Terrier should be slaughtered if a policeman says he thinks it’s a pit bull. Or that if the state decides to destroy all the cattle within a five mile area  because the government mistakenly thinks there could be foot and mouth, then it’s right and proper that the farmers should have no legal redress. Or, that if a man is found dead with small cuts on his wrists, and a number of pills in his body – when all finger prints have been removed from the knife, from the box of pills, from the drinks bottle found nearby, and the blood has miraculously disappeared from the area – that a verdict of suicide should be upheld without a coroner, without an inquest, without a jury hearing the evidence, and that the facts of the case should be hidden under official secrecy for seventy years.

We are a subservient race who are constrained on all sides by the state and an ever-increasing, ludicrous series of laws.

And the latest controversial suggestion by Mr Clarke?

That we should be allowed to have cameras in court so that the public might be allowed to see how the legal system works.

There have been howls of horror. How could we consider such a novelty?

Courts are supposed to be open. Is an open court only all right if only a tiny, tiny number of people can witness justice being done? Does justice automatically diminish because the great unwashed are allowed to see what goes on in court? What utter nonsense!

I was horrified at my own ignorance recently when I was asked what was wrong with a particular scene. It was nothing odd: only a judge sitting at his post, banging a gavel to silence the court. And then I was told that no English judge has a gavel – that is an Americanism.

If I, who has spent many years working with lawyers, watching “Rumpole” with fascination, and reading up on famous cases for my books, if I can get such a simple detail wrong, it is time that ALL the population be given an opportunity to watch.

And if, as MPs feared, when cameras were allowed into Westminster, this means that certain archaic habits of our legal profession are held up to ridicule, so be it. Perhaps they’ll grow up a little as a result.

Some years ago I watched a programme about car thieves who stole to go joy riding. The criminals were all in their teens, and their crimes led to danger for a lot of people: the risk of crashes with innocent drivers or pedestrians. But there was an estate where the kids would steal cars every night.

A scheme had been developed which stopped almost all car thefts overnight.

The thieves were given access to garages, cars (wrecks), and a race track. The scheme cost next to nothing, but in terms of stopping crimes, it was a massive success. And the kids didn’t go to prison, where they would learn from embittered older felons how to lead a life of crime. They didn’t go back to crime afterwards – and I daresay many would have learned useful skills as mechanics.

In a previous post I’ve written about an old friend of mine who, just after the war, broke into Caterham Barracks and stole a rifle and a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition. The Justice of the Peace, before whom he was hauled some days later, looked at him carefully and said he had two choices: a prison for teenagers, where he would launch himself on a lifelong career of crime, or a different idea. The idea was, that my friend would be forced to join a rifle club, and he would have to attend it once a week.

That intelligent, sensible magistrate probably never realised how wise his judgement was, but my friend went on to become a top shooter for his county.

Kids don’t turn to crime because they want to be criminals. Most go to it from boredom. Give them an alternative, and they’ll often embrace it.

Oh, yes. Drugs. How to stop the drug problem. It’s different, isn’t it?

No. Stop criminalising kids for taking drugs. Prohibition has failed, as has prohibition on alcohol, firearms and all other items since the dawn of time. Too many kids are going to prison for taking recreational drugs – why? They have access to more drugs in prison than outside, for goodness sake!

Our drug policies are causing tens of thousands of murders in countries like Mexico and Colombia because we reward those who want to risk arrest with massive sums of money. To people with no hope, little education, and extreme poverty, the risks appear to be entirely outweighed by the potential benefits.

At the same time, we are funding criminal gangs, ruining the lives of kids in our own countries, and benefitting no-one except certain arms and intelligence companies (and police who are proposing ever more draconian laws on the general population) who use drugs as a means of selling their products and services. It is madness!

So like Eddie Ellison, the last head of the National Drug Squad in the Metropolitan Police, I am convinced all drugs should be legalised, their sales controlled, and taxed. Funds generated could be used for the rehabilitation of those who want to give up drug taking. The prisons, however, would not be needed at anything like the same extent.

Go it, Ken! Legalise drugs next!

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