Opinion: good and bad reasons for backing Ken

Ken Clarke is coming under pressure from the Red Tops about his plans for sentence reform. According to Conservative Home, even David Cameron is getting cold feet. But Liberal Democrats, it is assumed, are bound to be backing Ken.

This might be thought a given as Liberals are, from the point of view of the media, supposed to have a benign, Panglossian view of human nature which unkind souls might call unrealistic or wet.

Wrong on both counts!

I have long thought the only good moral reason for punishing someone is that they deserve it and that the state is entitled to give offenders the punishment they deserve. That means many minor offenders could not grumble if they found themselves banged up in gaol. That makes me a supporter of what has been dubbed the retribution theory of punishment.

However every state, every school, every parent – every potential punisher, in other words, – has to decide how much due punishment to dole out. They do that in the light of other wider objectives.

Foremost amongst those is the need to keep crime down, to deter offenders. Here the evidence is unequivocal. Short sentences are not only costly but singularly ineffective in preventing re-offending compared with some of the alternative means of punishment.

This is what research by the National Audit Office shows, what the Public Accounts Committee and its right wing chairman, Edward Leigh recently concluded and what every Home Secretary since Winston Churchill has known.

Ken Clarke ought to be supported not because of any Liberal leanings but because he has the courage to act on the evidence and, at 70, to worry more about what might be the real results of policy than
headlines.

There will be a need to keep short sentences for unrepentant recidivists and a need to assess how a lesser incarceration rate impacts on potential criminals, to ensure the efficacy of community punishments but there can be no case for avoiding evidence led policy. Oh that others would follow suit!

To act on prejudice alone would be criminal.

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10 Comments

  • @Andrew Ducker
    In addition to the Q from Tom, if some one was dealing drugs to school kids and made no bones about that fact that he would continue doing it regardless, you would advocate no jail time as it will not change his ways?

  • @Andrew Ducker
    “you lock them up so that they can’t hurt anyone. Restraining someone so that they cannot hurt others is a minimum necessary response.”

    Depriving some one of their liberty is a punishment, if they are being locked up because they won’t reform then surely it is because they deserve it (i.e. they refuse the chance to reform and therefore deserve prison to protect the public).

    Your stance is surely not a million miles from the thrust of the article?

  • Depriving some one of their liberty is a punishment, if they are being locked up because they won’t reform then surely it is because they deserve it (i.e. they refuse the chance to reform and therefore deserve prison to protect the public).

    Your stance is surely not a million miles from the thrust of the article?

    Er, no, you lock someone up if it’s considered necessary in order to prevent other people getting hurt by them. Whether they “deserve it” or not is irrelevant. A patient suffering paranoid schizophrenia wouldn’t “deserve” punishment for their illness but you might still have to lock them up if they were likely to attack other people.

    With all the baying about the merits of revenge and people getting what they deserve I’m wondering if I’ve stumbled into the Daily Mail chatroom by mistake.

  • @ Catherine
    This was a discussion about law and criminal sentencing, not about dealing with those unfortunate to be mentally ill (where they would be locked in a hospital to help them with their condition).

    I will have to bow to your superior knowledge of the Daily Mail, as I don’t read it myself I can’t offer the same sort of insight as yourself.

    Now, Andrew said that the only reason for punishing some one was to change their behaviour, locking someone up in jail is a punishment if that is the sentence a court of law passes. A few people gave examples of where someone may be deprived of their liberty (i.e. jailed by a court) and their is no chance of reforming their behaviour. Andrew seems to think it is OK to do this in order to protect the public, in which case it is punishment without reform and he is not that far from the position laid out in the OP.

    However, if you think that is wrong. please feel free to let us know what you think should happen in these cases.

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