Sunday, 17 April 2011

Laura Norder

I have been interested by the way in which our coalition government has set about implementing some of the points contained in their respective manifesto. Or not as the case may be. A number of very contentious policies have been introduced causing the government to withdraw Bills for review or to abandon their suggestions. This mainly due to a lack of detail once the 'new arrangements' hit the media. It seems as if they spent those long years in opposition merely dreaming up bullet point-ideas with no detailed consideration as to implementation. Reaction to these ideas was swift and, in some cases, violent. One or two will become running sores as the opposers vow to continue their demonstrations which could have a splitting effect on the two parties of the coalition. The root of the problems is the sad state of the nation's economy - if that goes wrong there is no way of making the proposed changes.

Something that has not attracted so much public attention is the question of crime and punishment. Maybe many of us skip over this - it won't happen to me syndrome. The main plank of opposition seems to be the question of finding money to build prisons. This led to be possibility of private prisons run by the private sector. This will not be a cheaper solution - the outsourcing company will run the prison and expect to make a profit.It is akin to the dreaded PFI situation where the build cost is treated like some tally-man purchase on the never never.

Over this last week-end I read a Jenny McCartney article in the Sunday Telegraph.This bemoaned the way in which parenting has become a lost cause for many of those with young children. This encompasses not just the dark arts such as getting a child to sleep a regular pattern but basic human ability where a child was suffering infected toes from wrong-sized shoes or had not been fed for three days. The link between poverty and crime is detailed in an American publication but we are now in the same state as they were at the time it was written. We can no longer rely upon the fact that all children will be taught good behaviour at their mother's knee. Racial it may be but there is also the consideration that not all parents are aware of how our country used to run. We therefore need to review our crime and punishment procedures so as to leave no one in any doubt as to what will decide their future. There is little point in debating who has a crack at which university if their c.v. details just how they have behaved; which finishing-school prison did they attend?

I see no real problem in achieving a much better system for detailing what is right and what is wrong. In the early 1950s, at the age of 19, I was called into the Army under the National Service Act. Our mentors were responsible for indoctrinating us into the Army way of doing things. There was the civilians way, the wrong way and the army way. Every fortnight the intake would dredge up an amorphous body of individuals ranging from highly individual, well-educated youths from rich and privileged backgrounds to illiterate Teddy Boys lacking respect for almost everything. Within a fortnight they were all turned into universal soldiers ready to move into a regiment or corps for further technical training.
They marched together. Moved together. Some had had to be shown how to keep themselves clean. Those who could not read were started off learning by others.

Old crusties will be snuffling about brutality and possibly mentioning Deepcut Barracks. No - in all my service I never saw a soldier struck by anyone in authority. By his colleagues - maybe. When it was necessary to emphasise that his lack of effort was causing us all to suffer when we repeated exercises he had failed. Yes - he would be shouted at and made to move about sharply but this only to let him know that he could not beat the system. Everything he was told to do had been explained and shown to him in detail. 1 - do this, 2 - do that, 3 - then do this.

At the moment, our legal and prison policies lack teeth. I the first place, they are mainly dealing with people who really do not give a damn. One has only to watch Jamie's School to see the total lack of respect of which our juveniles are capable. The recent images of rioting on the streets of London reveal just how little respect is given to the police. Doubtless, someone will comment that the police have brought this upon themselves by their reaction but, even if this is so in every case, it does not excuse the sort of conduct exhibited by the quasi-students. There are established channels for laying complaints and the images would go towards deciding who was right or wrong.

We must have tried everything so far. Community service. They do not attend or just continue their disaffected conduct. Imprisonment. Badge of honour and let out half-way. Conditions inside little worse than their chaotic home life. Short sharp shock. Was deemed a failure. Then we tried Zero Tolerance but that did not realise it's full potential' but that may have been due to the fact that it was not applied across all of the criminal legislation.

Firstly, we should review the laws that are now in effect. Trite but why is it that we have 10 Commandments but millions of offences? Even a review of stuff introduced by that nice Tony. Maybe even simplify them. I seem to recall debate about a Scots law detailing 'being found by night with face blackened' seemed much easier to prove than burglary.

Having simplified the crimes, we come to enforcement. The Zero Tolerance was founded upon the idea that a neglected-looking neighbourhood drew in minor crime and then major offences. The monitoring could be something done by the Community Crime force with, possibly, Neighbourhood Watch. Something for the Big Society volunteers maybe?

The police procedures would need to be evaluated to ensure that arrest is the most likely outcome of bad behaviour or crooked conduct. The prosecution service should concentrate on presenting cases in such a manner that leaves no doubt as to criminal responsibility. Judges object strongly to fixed sentences as being too authoritarian but we need to be sure that there is no weakness in the prosecution of criminals.

The regime in prison should be such that no one in their right mind would be comfortable inside. Television, games. gymnasia, conjugal visits - no such thing. Education directed towards what might improve the inmate's understanding of proper conduct. The days of mail bag production to be re-introduced. Harsh treatment but fair.

This is not a proposal for a 1984 Orwellian land. What I ask is that criminals be isolated from me and mine. My requirement and choice is to live in accord with the laws of the land. Those who elect to do otherwise must be shown the consequences of their choice. There will doubtless be many who reject my vision - I suggest that there is a place for them to assist people to stay out of my world. They can volunteer to show the criminally inclined how they should live - to the benefit of all.