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Prison isn’t the be all and end all. Here are a couple of alternatives.

The Charlie Gilmour sentence of 16 months has caused quite a stir amongst the blogosphere in the past few days, with both sides of the debate having their say. Some believe that the sentence is overly harsh and some believe that it is justified due to what he did. I wrote the other day that I didn’t write that the sentence was harsh but I did question whether it was right to send him to prison. I didn’t see the pros of this course of action but I don’t think prison works – and for certain people and for certain crimes I think prison is without a shadow of a doubt the wrong way to deal with the issue.

I’m not some softie liberal who is soft on crime. I think everyone should very much be called to account for their actions. However I do believe that prison should be reserved for dangerous people to protect the community from them. There are so many ways we could deal with criminals without just locking them up and not thinking about it.

Firstly why not deal with some sections of criminals by offering them the choice of prison or a 2-4 stint in the armed forces? The Army, Navy and Air Force are always in need of recruits and some of these people (I’m thinking more of the younger person here who needs a bit of discipline and guidance to get their lives back on track). So many people get into trouble and they dn’t know why. So many people are angry and they don’t know why. Lobbing them in prison does very little to deal with this anger and the more they are told they are on the wrong side of society then the more they’ll act like it. Hiding troublemakers away inside does nothing to deal with their anger and only hardens their beliefs.

Secondly – and this is something I am very passionate about – there are so many crimes that can be dealt with by stronger and harsher community service orders. There are 1000s of projects up and down the country that need volunteers and why not strong-arm certain non-dangerous criminals into being part of this. For example if someone was found guilty of fraud then what is a better way to deal with this person – a couple of years inside or a couple of years working full-time in a not for profit ‘job’ aka two years of community service?

First of all it would cost the tax payer far less (I foresee these people living in halfway houses where they are housed and fed and given a very basic stipend linked to how many hours they work) and secondly it would directly benefit the community which they had taken from when committing their crime. Also I’m not saying a few hours here and a few hours there, I’m proposing 48 hour weeks. Communities can request certain things they want and it can be managed so that these people can do those jobs. Whether it be cleaning up a park or river bank or working in a charitable shop or providing free labour for an extension of a railway track. The army of community service people can take on huge projects that council’s cannot afford at the moment.

This would provide extra facilities for the community and it would also make the punishment for their crimes extremely visible. Hiding criminals away doesn’t shame criminals and I believe that shame and embarrassment are an important part of the process. This process will do that but it will also give these people a sense of purpose and a feeling that they have truly settled their debt to society and not just sat inside for a few months.

Of course certain crimes and criminals need to be punished by going behind bars for a long time as they need to as to protect the public. However there are many crimes that can be dealt with this way. Whilst they wouldn’t be inside they would live in halfway houses where they would be monitored closely and wouldn’t be able to run a muck. They would be giving back and paying back their debt directly to the community instead of us paying their debt by paying for them to be locked up.

My good friend Kel-Marie over on her blog Political Parry firstly called me young, which I quite liked despite the fact that I am older than her but secondly said that crime isn’t just about causing physical harm to someone. This I agree with but I also think those that are involved in non-violent crimes do not have to be dealt with one-way. Our justice system should not be a ‘one size fits all’ system. It needs to be broad and take everything into account. No two crimes and no two criminals are the same – to judge crimes and criminals identically is not right and is not far, not only for the criminal but also for the victims.

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  1. I’m not a big fan of custodial sentence. However, alternative sentencing in the UK is ineffective in it’s current state. So i think we agree!

    I left school in 2000 (post A Level) but didnt attend Uni til 2002 and graduated in 2006 as I went part time 🙂

  2. Cheers for the reference. (Are you old than me?!)

    I wasn’t suggesting that crime that does not harm someone physically should require a custodial sentence. And I also said I felt the sentence served was somewhat harsh.

    Sentencing is largely guided by the courts, who deal with three types of offences, Summary, Triable-either-way and Indictable. All summary offences are tried in the Magistrates and all Indictable in the Crown Court. Triable-either-way, the defendant can chose.

    The choice is based on punishment capabilities of the judge and court, and the liklihood of conviction. A Magistrates finds 90% of perpetrators guilty but can only impose a maximum of 6 months or a £5,000 fine.

    A Crown Court only finds 20% of defendants guilty but can impose a life term or a maximum fine. The reason for the reduction in guilty is largely down to the presence of a jury who can be persuaded more emotively in favour of the defendant.

    To complicate matters, the Magistrates can refer to the Crown for sentencing should they feel the crime necessitated it.

    As Charlie pleaded guilty, his sentence would have been less than if he had been found guilty by a jury. However, Violent Disorder is a triable-either-way so I am surprised he didn’t opt for a Magistrates trial, which would have reduced the sentence. However, given the offence was severely weighted against him for attacking the Royal entourage, they may have referred it up in any case. I believe that is the real reason for the length of sentence, and that his social standing has little affect on it. People who offend the Royals need to be made an example of, I would suggest, Daily Mail style!

    • admin admin

      I’m not debating the sentence in this case. I’m questioning whether the law is effective in its current guise. I don’t think prison is effective in many situations and whilst there are some community service orders I believe there is a gap between 100 odd hours of community service and jail that can be dealt with in other ways – that I have described in this piece. So the judge was fine to do what he did – I just think the law is wrong and judges need to be given a far bigger leeway and freedom to deal with criminals.

      And yes I think I have a year on you as I noticed you left school a year after me and graduated a year after me as well :o)

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