Friday, April 07, 2006

St. Anselm and the perpetuation of lex talionis

When it comes to dealing with crime no party wants to appear soft, least of all perhaps the Conservative Party. he Times has highlighted the dangers of staying too far from the path of traditional retributive principles of justice. Labour will be quick to seize on any shift in traditional Tory policy, which Sieghart characterises as “prison works”. But is there away of dealing with the causes of reoffending (and crime generally) without being branded soft? I would submit that there is. But first, to the branding. Sieghart senses a new slogan, but perhaps not the theft of “tough on the causes of crime” as she jokingly suggests. Rather the Conservative Party needs to indicate its tough approach to crime whilst highlighting the party’s ‘social conscience’. By rehashing Labour’s (technically Brown’s) “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” the Conservative Party could get its point across whilst indicating to the public that Labour is stuck in the past whereas the Conservative Party is progressive. I suggest the following:

“Tough on crime, proactive on the causes of crime”

As to dealing with the problem without appearing ‘soft’ the Conservative Party needs to take a mixed bag approach; it needs to appear tough but fair, rather than tough and uncaring. I suggest the following as an outline of such an approach (I do not pretend to be able to give a comprehensive solution in one blog entry). Take a zero-tolerance approach to the commission of crime, at any level. Reduction of red-tape for stop and search. Increased use of sniffer dogs (especially in prisons). At the same time principles of restorative justice need to be utilised at all levels of society. In prisons there needs to be a focus on prisoners coming face-to-face with the effects of their actions on their victims and victims of crime in general. At the same time there needs to be greater focus on education; obtaining trades, academic qualifications, perhaps even some form of partnership with the Open University. On top of this we need to comprehensively deal with drug use in prison. All prisoners should be helped to come off drugs. But at the same time we need to take a zero-tolerance approach to its use; as I have highlighted above sniffer-dogs should play a role, indeed the key role, in this. With the universal use of sniffer dogs on all visitors, along with random inspections of the prisons and a tough response to those found in possession of drugs (i.e. an increase in sentence) drug use in prisons can be eradicated. At the same time we need to deal with ‘aftercare’; what happens to the prisoner when they re-enters society. Prisoners should not be released homeless; halfway houses would be a start. On top of this there is a need to assist the former prisoner in finding a job, or further training etc. We need to provide post-release assistance through the use something similar to the probation service, whereby the former-prisoner meets periodically with someone with whom they can discuss their progress, problems they are facing and of course obtain advice and assistance. The vital stage where restorative principles should be applied has been left to last; in the communities across the UK where crime flourishes. Prevention is after all better than cure. We need to engage with communities to address the issues that not only allow crime to thrive but indeed promote it. To do this we need to engage with local community organisations and projects; help them to help the people they serve. We need to promote traditional family values and community spirit.

What I have suggested is merely the vaguest outline of what we need to do. We need to do much more than what I have recommended, and what we do put into practice we must implement comprehensively. However whatever we do we must agree that it is time to turn our back on St. Anselm.


Raw Carrot said...

Bottom line: we need more prisons with no TVs or Playstations, longer sentences, capital punishment, national service, quick deportation of illegal immigrants and other undesirables. And the anti-drugs measures you speak of.

Tory in the Wilderness said...

I think there is a tendency to oversimplify what ‘needs’ to be done. Generally I agree with you (although not with regard to capital punishment), however the solution is much more complex than the application of retributive principles of justice on their own. We need to ask what it is we want to achieve by putting criminals in jail. Certainly part of it is punishment, another part is the protection of the victim and potential victims, but there is also the desire to rehabilitate. A purely retributive approach, on its own, simply fails to achieve this latter goal. I would submit that we need to apply restorative principles of justice as well. Sentences should match the crime (and in that regard be longer) but they should also serve a purpose greater than that which is defined in terms of the sentence itself. There is a need to deal with the root/underlying causes of criminality (but without taking a blame-free liberal approach), there is a need to deal with the fact that most prisoners have literacy problems and no transferable skills, there is a need to deal with drug use in prison. There is a great deal to do, but it will not be done by simply taking a focused retributive approach with no consideration for the wider issues.

Raw Carrot said...

most prisoners have literacy problems and no transferable skills

This is no doubt true - but to my way of thinking they chose to not read properly and lack transferable skills the moment they started misbehaving or truanting from school... Harsh, I know, but true.