Tuesday 25 July 2006

Sentencing considerations.

In this post, reviewing this book, Mr Raw Carrot discusses the relationship between crime and sentencing in the UK. Among other things, he attacks the popular left-wing notion that too many people are in prison in Britain at the moment, providing a graph (figure 5.2) of Home Office statistics which show that Britain's prison population is in fact in line with those of other European countries, contrary to the claims made by the likes of (picking one recent example) Jon Snow on Channel 4 News.

My problem with this line of argument is that it concedes far too much ground. There is a major fault in the claim that the UK's prison population is too large compared to that of other countries, and it has nothing to do with the actual size of the UK's prison population. Once you start arguing about relative numbers of prisoners in different countries, you are implying that it's a sensible thing to argue about. And it isn't.

The real issue is a simple matter of fair trials. I'm in favour of them myself. One aspect of a fair trial is that the judge's reasoning, when considering sentencing, should consider such things as: Is this a first offense? Was anyone harmed? Has the convict shown any remorse? Did they plead guilty? Have they helped the police? That sort of thing: things related to the crime and the criminal in question.

If it is true that Britain has too many prisoners compared to France, then the solution is for judges, when sentencing, to consider this sort of thing: What is the population of France? How many prisoners are currently in French prisons? What is the population of the UK? How many prisoners are currently in British prisons? What is the ratio of the former to the latter? What sort of ratio would be reasonable? These things are totally unrelated to the crime and the criminal in question, and therefore have no place in a fair trial. By extension, neither do they have any place in anyone's criminal justice system.

A criminal's punishment should be related to their crime, not to the crimes of other criminals in other countries. The correct response to any complaint of disproportionality between sizes of prison populations in different countries, regardless of whether that complaint is based on truth, is simply "So what?"

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