Monday, 6 July 2009

Tribal loyalty 0 - 1 Common sense

How nice to see a principled stand being taken on the issue of prison reform by Cherie Blair and Henry McLeish. Both have stepped above the political fray, casting any tribal loyalty aside in order to praise the SNP's proposed penal reforms, whereby community sentencing would be preferred to jail time of less than 6-months.

Note that important word: preferred. This would be no diktat to those deciding on sentencing. Dangerous criminals could still be put in prison at the discretion of the courts. But rather than wasting public money sending petty criminals to finishing school prison, they would instead be "paying back" to society.

It is perhaps instructive to ask ourselves what purpose a sentence less than 6-months serves. Is it a punishment/deterrent? Or an attempt at rehabilitation? If the former, then I suspect most criminals are not quaking in their boots at the prospect. If the latter, then perhaps we need to ask why re-offending rates remain stubbornly high.

Personally, I'm a firm believer in criminals being confronted with the effects of their crimes. Most human beings, when shown the misery they have caused their fellow man, will show some form of remorse. With support and guidance at that stage we give them the best chance of becoming productive members of society. If the community sentencing is of this type then the reforms have my full support. Of course there will always be an uncaring few without a conscience, and custodial sentences perhaps remain the best option for such cases.

Of more concern to me however, is the nature of the opposition to the reforms. If Labour were pretty hopeless in power they are even worse in opposition. Where are the ideas? Where is the alternative vision for Scotland? Nowhere to be seen. They seem far too busy opposing any new SNP initiative for the sake of it. On this particular issue former FM Henry McLeish puts it in unequivocal terms:

"Their claims are wholly ridiculous," he said. "They are arguing against something that is not being implemented or recommended by the [Scottish] Government. My appeal to Labour, who were the progressive party, is to read the report [by the Scottish Prisons Commission]. None of it adds up to anything remotely like what they are claiming. They are misleading the public."

He added: "The Labour claims on this are just totally wrong. There is no provision that says every sentence under six months is not allowed. The sheriffs still have the right to sentence as they wish."

He went on: "Labour and the Conservatives are saying crime equals punishment equals prison. That strategy has got us into a situation where we are wasting millions of pounds every year, a situation where we are not protecting the public any better and a situation where we have some of the highest re-conviction rates in Europe."

[Quoted from the Scotsman, 5th July 2009]

I've emphasised a couple of phrases: Labour were the progressive party. But no longer. Labour are misleading the public. Strong stuff from McLeish, but spot on. How much better the public is served when our politicians tell it like it is, rather than meekly following party orders.


subrosa said...

I'm not too well informed about the justice system - I leave that to you and Lallands, but what I do know is that our community service setup is pathetic.

Time we had a look at some of the European and dare I say American ones and took a few tips about the management of them.

forfar-loon said...

You mean we're supposed to be well informed when we blog...? ;o)