28 August 2007

Sometimes I am surprised by polls. Today’s ICM poll in today’s Guardian concerned public views on punishing criminals. I would have expected that a sizeable majority of respondents would have favoured more prison places and tougher sentences, particularly in the wake of high profiles news stories such as the release of Learco Chindamo (who as a 15 year old in 1995 murdered Philip Lawrence, the headmaster of a secondary school in London) and the recent murder of 11 year old Rhys Jones.

In fact things do not seem to be so clear cut: just over half of respondents (51%) want the government to find other ways to punish criminals and deter crime. Among women only 40% think the government should aim to send more convicted criminals to prison, against 57% who want to see other, non-custodial forms of punishment. It is only among pensioners that there is a majority in favour of expanding the prison population.

There seems to be a general belief that prisons make crime worse. More people agreed with the statement "prison doesn't work, it turns people into professional criminals who then commit more crime" than think "prison punishes crime, keeps criminals off the streets and deters others". Only 42% of all voters, and 39% of women, think prisons are an effective punishment, against 49%, and 52% of women, who say they fail to work. Conservative voters are most likely to back prisons, Liberal Democrats most likely to oppose them. Among Labour voters, 52% do not want to see more prisons built and 46% do. On the other hand this does not mean people are against tough sentencing: 77% of all respondents agreed that that courts should pass tougher sentences.

What does this poll mean, if anything? Unless it is anomalous perhaps people are not quite as swayed by the demagoguery of our tabloid press as the cynics among us would believe. There’s no question that respondents would advocate alternative sanctions for serious offenders but there does seem to be a desire for the government to continue to seek other options. I presume that does not mean reintroducing the birch or stocks! If I was not so tired I would try and say more about crime prevention, diversion and punishment (not that I am an expert). Perhaps another time


MC Fanon said...

Though so much of his writings are overly-idealistic, Kropotkin makes a fairly compelling case against the effectiveness of prisons, similar to what you are talking about here. It's striking that his words from more than a century ago have great relevance for the issues of today.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that prisons don't seem to be working at reducing crime. There is a disconnect between throwing more people into prison, but still having a rising crime rate. If prisons worked, fewer people would be committing crimes.

If people sent to prison came out literate with a trade, there would be less crime, but In the US we don't even get that with our school system, much less our prisons.

I think people are questioning the point of sending people to prison when all it seems to be doing is creating better and more dangerous criminals.

There has to be a better, more effective way of dealing with crime. I wish I knew what it was.

Amazing Gracie said...

I'm with Shakespeare on this one...do away with the attorneys.
I'm joking...
But the judges in the states are too lenient with sentences, such as releasing perverts who molest/rape little girls!

jams o donnell said...

Hi Dave, long time no see! I will admit that I am not a big reader of polititcal theorists. THe thing is that if prison was an inappropriate punishment for some 100 years ago, it still is now.

I feel much the same way as you Bryan. Prison is not an effective sanction for many.. I have no idea what the best alternative is either. It won't be a "one size fits all" solution.

Gracie. There will alway be those where there is no option but to remove from society. With murdered, child abusers, my instinct is to lock them up for a very long time. IN the case of child abusers, most will be released. If they do not receive some form of treatment in prison they are very likely to re-offend.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the fellow bloggers. However we need to clarify that the reason we are seeing this trend in apathy for some criminal activities is because the public has become disillusioned to not just the fact that prisons do not rehabilitate people, but that the justice system itself it not effective. This isn't something that happened overnight, it's been building inside the American culture for decades. The more we push toward a police state the more people resent the freedom they have lost, and for what they ask. Looking at the results, we put a lot of effort into upping law enforcement under the Reagan Administration, included a renewed effort on the war on the drugs.

No matter how you look at it the toll for a high crime rate is growing discontent among citizens.
Our move toward harsher prison sentencing could only ever have been a temporarily solution to a surge in crime. In many cases escalating the war on crime has made crime far more profitable.

The vast majority of American's feel the justice system is dangerous enough to fear, even if they are innocent. The prison system is in many cases breeding more crime and resulting in state sanctioned sodomy. To me, the idea that we are locking away criminals for minor crimes that result in no one getting hurt for years and allowing them to be raped is far worse than the abuses that occurred
at Abu Ghraib. That's a hell of a lot of people being raped who did things like, got caught with a joint and didn't bend over for the justice system, committed minor burglary, resisted arrest (this is a very subjective law), destroyed evidence (this is only the natural thing to so and what our politicians show us by example is right). The RNC can delete archives of it's emails right, but Joe Crackhead can't throw his pipe into the bushes it it's yet another crime. Are those crimes worthy of sentencing a man to live among the constant fear of being beaten half to death or raped ?

Who could possibly perceive that as a reasonable man's justice system.
We've left our founding fathers positions of common sense behind to live in this constantly reinforced state of fear.

If it's true, criminals are the targets of most murders, that only helps reinforce the fact that our overly fine tuned justice system is not all that necessary. I'm saying we don't need police. We need lots of police, doing lots of public duties just like they do now. What we don't need is over zealous DA's, judges and mandatory minimums.

We also need to entirely re-vamp how we look at 'crime' and avoid lumping the real criminals with people who just broke the rules. We should also reasonably try to group physically large inmates together and small inmates together to avoid
abuse and rape.

The conservative right should even be looking at trying to reduce prison rape because well, it's sodomy and they supposedly hate that.

The first major step is to get more violent criminals in jail for longer and try to avoid long sentences on all but the worse non-violent criminals. That only makes common sense. Jailing people costs a lot of money and in most cases it costs more money to jail these people then they even make in a year or two. It's a lose lose situation. We pay 40k+ a year per criminal and we take their taxable income and purchases from the economy.

Violent criminals need more reason to not come back to jail, having more violent criminals and less non-violent criminals grouped will help this otherwise violent criminals run the prisons and abuse the non-violent ones, obviously. We should also probe the prison systems and see just how badly corrupt the guards really are.
I think more prison labor for violent criminals would reduce prison costs, but more importantly will probably provide much of the needed incentive to keep people from just retuning to their posh prison lifestyle.

Both non-violent and violent criminals should be broken up into psychologically profiled groups to avoid conflicts among prisoners and to help cross learning in prison. Where one criminal teaches another criminal how to better be a criminal. Prisons are very certainly educational facilities on crime.

So, the result of failed legislation is almost always apathy toward the supposed 'justice' of the law. Look at something like prohibition on the failure of trying to legislate morality. The facts are that the American people ideals are not being represented by our justice system.

Another major problem with the system as a whole are how police are taught to use every trick they can to bust people or obtain information. This methodology can only led us to a point where less and less people trust law enforcement.

In other words, if a policeman ever asks you to cooperate, don't. His goal is to bust someone and your obviously on his list of targets. He will do his job to best of his ability regardless of how well that is. Then it's up the DA to throw out the bad cases, which they rarely do.

This system cannot work. There is little checks and balances, the people have little room to directly effect change since the system works as an extension of the executive branch. With executive officers able to appoint judges, how are they not able to reshape and control the justice system with out congress. Even if congress was with the American people (and polls clearly show they are not) they are powerless to stop conspiring between the judicial and executive branches to enforce this justice of favoritism.

Judges are supposed to owe their loyalties to the people, not simply the political ideals of the party who's man appointed him. Cops are supposed to be protecting and serving the people. So why do they try to trick us into waiving our rights so they can search our cars all the time. It's like they are punishing American's for not knowing the legal loopholes of the justice system. Are we all supposed to become lawyers just to avoid being harassed by police ?

The largest sources of information for law enforcement are the eyes and ears of the public. Yet, they abuse people rights at every chance. We cannot look at people as criminal and non-criminals. We are all citizens and harassing people because they fit the profile or some crap is just wrong yet, thats exactly how law enforcement works.

Why? Simple, because we've asked them to accomplish and impossible job with a list of infractions that more or less make every American a criminal.

Do you want to live in fear of your democratically controlled government? If we don't step in and correct this it will only get worse. The culture needs to re-think what a criminal really is and how to realistically lower crime.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks for your comment Joe

jams o donnell said...

There is a lot to take in