I Write, You Consider, The Penal System

A few days ago I proposed that corporal punishment was pointless as correction had to come from self-control. I arrived at this decision through my own experiences. This led me to consider our inadequate penal system. Locking people up en masse, irrespective of the reason they are there, controlled by an over stretched and consequently resentful staff, must patently be wrong especially as they seem to be locked up for incredible periods of the day and to have very little worthwhile occupation. This in itself must have a derogatory affect on any hope of rehabilitation. For a start off, the reasons for antisocial behaviour are numerous and disparate, so surely the solutions should be disparate also. France’s ‘Devil’s Island, I believe, had some of the right ideas, even if it was extreme and barbaric. Make life so miserable for the serious offenders that they are forced to rethink. However, always bear in mind that some thrive in these conditions as toughness and roughness can be a badge of excellence, a route to a subversive leadership, as I discovered in the Service. I have previously reported that, for a weekend I was a jailer responsible for two men held for attempted murder, and part of their punishment was picking rope into oakum – a total waste of time, energy and finger nails.

It would seem therefore, that hardship, coupled with a comparison, might be more effective. Assuming home is preferable to incarceration, if we also agree that minor offences should be dealt with mainly by community service, we have a situation which can be used in order to differentiate between home and prison. Those on community service, if placed in jail at every weekend, might be given pause for thought. The slightly more serious, selected offenders might be allowed home at weekends, tagged. This too would give a comparison, and would not require additional prisons. I can envisage logistical problems with cells used by long stay prisoners having personalised their cells, but I also believe these problems are not insuperable.

To those very serious offenders, I believe from my own experience, in the Navy, of hunger, discomfort, bad conditions and being divorced from home and family, for long periods, that one greatly appreciates the other life, and while this period is toughening, and just about acceptable under service conditions, there is no doubt that one looks forward to improvement ASAP. It would then seem logical that in serious cases the punishment should be hard work of a physical nature, preferably outdoors, causing fatigue; nourishing but totally uninteresting food of a repetitive nature, hours of solitary confinement for contemplation, no TV, rare visits and only reading matter to while away the time – illiterates would be taught to read and write. Intercommunication between the prisoners should be severely controlled in order to avoid building up the hierarchy and influence of the wrong sort within the prisoner community.

A stick without a carrot is ineffective, comparison between comfort and being ground down is essential, so there must be rewards which can legitimately be withdrawn. Small relaxations in the regime, such as the TV, periods of socialisation and so on could be expanded on an exponential basis. Essentially also, there must be an honest and unequivocal system of control. Any preferential treatment, or selective abuse by authority, would negate the system.

The whole purpose of the ‘punishment’, must be rehabilitation, the revitalisation or the introduction of social standards which the rest of us accept as the norm. Some people unfortunately have a quirk in their nature, and perhaps there is no cure for them. They, though, are in the minority, and the rest have arrived in their current situation through environment, association and circumstances. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that one can amend these trends, particularly in the young, by showing them and offering them a better way of life. This can only be done by example and education, not incarceration for hours on end in a sterile environment.

Having read this you will appreciate that I am no specialist in the subject but that does not prevent me from thinking reasonably about a subject which seems to have defeated our leaders. What I propose will cost, especially the retraining. However, this system might slow or reverse the ever bourgeoning prison building programme

Categorized as General

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