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Saturday, 16 July 2011

‘Let the punishment fit the crime’

The ‘Charlie Gilmour’ case last week highlighted the paucity of imagination and thinking in our penal system,  Judge Nicholas Price QC accepted that Charlie’s antics at the Cenotaph on Whitehall did not form part of the violent disorder, but accused him of disrespect to the war dead, and then proceeded to jail him for 16 months. I use Charlie’s case to illustrate the plight of many offenders and how we are failing them and society.

This is clearly a young man who is intelligent, in his second year at Cambridge University, who used drugs on the day of the offences and was clearly under their influence. Nothing unusual so far, I suspect many of us in our 20’s under the influence have caused some mayhem/vandalism but been lucky to get away with it. Charlie may also have got away with it had he not swung on the Cenotaph Union flag. A disgraceful and disrespectful act but the meaning of which was probably lost on Charlie at the time, and certainly not an offence that should end his university education and possibly effect his whole life.

This sentence by Judge Price was out of all proportion to the crime, but worse, it does nothing to reform young Charlie, remember he committed no act of violence on an individual, and it is highly likely the sentence imposed will do more harm than good to Charlie and society in the future.

We need imagination, commonsense, vision and a desire to rehabilitate in our penal system, this is sadly lacking from our political classes. I am no expert on the penal system but it seems to me we should be looking for penalties for many offences such as Charlie’s that will make them see the error of their ways. They should make a contribution to society over a period where the offender will be punished and society can expect a large drop in re-offending.

I will not list here a range of punishments which might replace a jail sentence, but these punishments should include the convicted offender working in and for our society on the basis of a 40 hour week, which would mean 1800 hours for a years penalty. The benefit to the offender and society being they could continue the day job, so funding themselves, and a good chance  of being reformed and benefiting society at the same time. If they are unemployed or in education then any benefits or grants they receive would be subject to the penalty being carried out.

We have excellent administrative systems and outsourcing companies to administer such a penal scheme and it would have the benefit of reforming many more convicted offenders and reducing the number of people in our prisons so offsetting the costs involved.

Young Charlie and many others I am sure would have the opportunity of coming out a better and reformed person, which is more than we can expect if they enter our corrupt prison system.

Richard Calhoun
twitter: @richardcalhoun

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