Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Riot jail sentences need new radical jail life

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Don't just lock them up, make them work inside. Jail should be about changing them.

The debate about the length of jail sentences for those found guilty of involvement and incitement of the riots has begun to take off between the doves and hawks on restorative justice. At first glance, four years for urging a riot on Facebook (but nothing then happened) can seem harsh. Writing a few words on social media can result in a sentence twice as long as actually looting goods from shops may seem disproportionate. Likewise, six months prison for stealing bottles of water can seem too much to some. However, if we are serious about puncturing the arrogant, laid back views of a minority in society who do not fear jail then these cases may start to have an effect on their attitudes. 
If the part of society that gave birth and nurtured the culture that created the looters, are alarmed at the length of sentence then the judge has succeeded in getting a message through to them. Over the past ten years, some social media users in society have become anesthetised to communicating responsibly. Especially on Facebook and Twitter, communicating has become contorted for some. What they write compared to what they would say face to face has become dysfunctional. The lonely and aloof aura as they type away on the keyboard has produced at times vicious, irresponsible and even deluded messaging. Perhaps the ‘Facebook Two’ sentences will make people stop and think that they are writing in cold reality and they cannot write anything they feel in that split second.
What is more important than arguing over the length of sentences is what goes on inside those jails. If they are holding pens and even training camps to improve the skills of robbers to rob better or increase the environment of aggression and hostility to inflame the gang culture, then those jails are failing. One British jail has a re-offending rate of 74%. That is a failed system.
As I suggested in my previous post on the riots, we need to get those prisoners out of their cells where they languish for up to 23 hours and get them working and exercising for say 18 hours.
The point of prison is yes to punish but also and this is crucial, to change that offender’s behaviour. We need people coming out of jail who will contribute back positively to society. There is no point whatsoever, ‘locking them up and throwing away the key’, because apart from the most violent crimes or severely mentally ill patients, the vast majority will come back out. We need them getting jobs and not living on benefits. We need them to have learnt from their spell in jail to teach youngsters to stay on the straight and narrow. We need those ex-offenders to be volunteering to help the local community. If they have few working skills, jail should be training them work and life skills to improve their chances of getting a job.
That is the part of the debate, which seems to be missing. Long sentences? Fine (case by case) but we need to radically change our prisons and construct a justice system that transforms wrong doers into stable, working citizens. Does Cameron have the nuanced understanding of what happened in the riots to produce that radical transformation of our prisons?
Does Cameron understand how to transform jails?

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