…and punishment

150 years in jail is quite a sentence. But then Bernard Madoff was quite a criminal and many ordinary Americans have been reduced to penury by his activities. The practical result of course is that, barring a successful appeal, Mr Madoff will die in prison.

Here in Britain our judges would never hand down a sentence like that. But our sentences are just as deviod of reality as the one given to Mr Madoff. If you are convicted of rape in this country you can expect a sentence of about 5 years. But you won’t actually spend that time in prison. You’ll only spend half of your sentence in prison and then you’ll be let out early. Without having to do anything to earn your release. It doesn’t give the public any confidence in the justice system.

We must move to an arrangement whereby the person convicted is given a minimum and a maximum sentence. The actual date he is released will depend entirely on what he does inside. If he makes efforts to improve himself (eg by learning a skill or trade, or perhaps even learning to read) he gets out nearer the minimum date. If he just “does his bird” he will get out near the maximum date.

This will work. Prisoners at the moment focus on their release date and nothing else, counting down day after meaningless day. If this dumb certainty were removed they’d have to make a positive effort and that is a good thing. If you leave prisoners to fester in prison doing nothing, is it any wonder that they commit more crimes when they are let out?

Finally the prison system has to deal with the drugs problem. Stopping drugs getting in and treating drug-addicted prisoners properly whilst they are inside. No prisoner should be released if he is still dependant upon drugs, no matter the length of the sentence handed down.

The next Conservative government must not fight shy of building more prisons or of spending taxpayer’s money on the rehabilitation of offenders. It will save the taxpayer money in the long run.

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