Are longer sentences the answer?
By CJ Walters
A lot of people are commenting on the recent terror attack in Streatham by Sudesh Amman who have very poor understanding of the British criminal justice system so let’s clear a few things up, for anyone interested.
To say he was released “early” or that he “convinced a parole board”, two statements that have been making the rounds, is misleading at best and complete rubbish at worst. Anyone in England who is given a determinate sentence is automatically released at halfway and then they serve the other half on licence (probation) in the community. The key word there is automatically. You could be the rudest prisoner and have zero remorse for your actions and still be released at halfway. Even if you smuggle a phone into the prison, or are caught using drugs, you will most likely only serve a few extra weeks past the half-way point. So people don’t like that? That’s fine, let’s talk about the alternatives then.
You could say we’re going to put some people in prison for an indeterminate amount of time and they have to convince a parole board they won’t reoffend. We already do that for life sentences, but maybe we should do that for other sentences too? Guess what, it’s been done; and it was an unmitigated disaster. The sentence was called an IPP and it ruined lives, with an underfunded and under resourced system people that were supposed to be doing a relatively short sentence ended up stuck in the system for years, and even if they got out, they were often returned to prison for years sometimes due to relatively minor infractions. The government abolished the IPP in 2012.
Well what if we brought it back for terror offenses? Well not many people would raise objections to keeping convicted terrorists in prison longer, but the IPP was already deemed a failure. What if we didn’t release those convicted of terror offences at the halfway point? Sure, but then don’t you want them monitored in the community after their release? So you would double their sentence and double their licence period? Okay, fine, double the sentences for terror offences but I’m telling you now – that will not solve the problem.
What we need is for the prison system to be better funded. It doesn’t matter how long you send someone away if they are not being rehabilitated. If you put someone in a cage and treat them like a dog they will not come out and be a decent member of society. We need to ensure that all of our prisons are up to a minimum standard of decency. Rather than some offenders being put onto generic courses there needs to be a focus on individual needs – a plan to combat reoffending tailor made for that offender. There is already a framework for this but not the necessary money, staff, or resources. Anyone who thinks that prison is too soft in this country hasn’t ever been – and doesn’t understand that it’s the going to prison that strips you of everything and is your punishment – once inside it’s the prison’s job to build that person up again in the right way.
But the issue is bigger than just the prison system. It begins before then. Cuts to local services that make it ever harder to climb out of poverty. Institutionalised racism. War in the Middle East. The bombings of civilians chalked up to ‘collateral damage’. The rendition and torture of men, some from the UK, perpetrated by the US in cahoots with the British Government. The fact that Guantanamo Bay still exists. But don’t for a second think I am making excuses for any crime or act of terror – of course not – it is simply important that we understand and address these factors if we want to stop it from happening again.
It’s all very well the public baying for blood and the Conservative government wanting to look ‘Tough on Terror’ but the goal should be reducing (re)offending – not slaking the public’s thirst for vengeance. Remember, no matter how much you increase someone’s sentence they are almost certainly going to be released one day. Do you want someone reentering society who has been broken and neglected or built-up and improved?