In the UK and in most western nations we have a problem with re-offending rates of prisoners upon release.  Now lots of things have been tried and none of them have really worked, we still have a problem with 90% of those sent to prison in 2011 having had a previous conviction.  Watching Newsnight on Tuesday got me thinking about this.  Now I have previously blogged on prisons and how they should be used as a way of helping to treat offenders who are addicted to drugs, alcohol and other things.  Now I am sure that if you introduced that it would have some impact on re-offending rates. 

Now another thing came to me today while I was on my way home, I have helped a fair few prisoners through work, and I have noticed that a lot of them have problems with basic literacy and writing.  Now this has to play a large part in their choice they make in their life after prison.  As how can we expect someone who can’t read and right properly to hold down a job? 

So I have come up with a bit of a carrot and a stick idea to help reduce re-offending, firstly we give these people the skills that can help them to reform and become a helpful member of society and if that fails we have the stick.  Which would reduce re-offending rather significantly. 

Now the idea follows a similar path as my drug treatment plan, which was we deal with the addiction then the punishment starts and we release the prisoner addiction free back in to society.  Well I thought we could maybe do something similar with an education element.  Every prisoner would be tested to see what their reading, writing and literacy skills are and they are put on a compulsory scheme which will bring them up to a minimum A-level/NVQ standard.  This would allow them to get a job upon release that paid a reasonable amount to live off. 

Now we could make it a parole condition that until a person has achieved such a qualification then they would not be eligible for release.   Now some people would think this is barbaric keeping people in prison unless they achieve a set qualification.  But If we release them with the tools to be able to go out and work surely that has to be better than keeping them in a cell for a set period of time and then just kicking them out with no skills and have them arrested 6 months down the line for breaking the law again. 

Now the second part of my idea the stick part is not a new idea, it’s something that certain parts of the USA already use; which is the three strikes and you get life.  Now I wouldn’t go for just any three criminal acts like three speeding tickets and you get life in prison; as that would be a little harsh.  However I would have it set at three convictions of offences that were either an automatic indictable offence such as Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent or 3 conviction of an either way offence like Burglary or Theft. 

Now I am all for giving people a chance and a second chance, but I think we need to draw the line at some place, and I think 3 chances is a fair shot for breaking the law.  Especially when if you watch a criminal trial for burglary or alike when convicted they will normally ask for other offences to be considered, so it’s not like these people have only broken the law 3 times in most cases.  With a policy like this it would act as a deterrent to people not to commit crime.

However there is one big question as to how we would fund this, as undoubtedly we would be locking people up in prison for longer, and in a fair few cases for life.  It would be unfair to expect the tax payer to increase their contributions to help fund such a scheme.  So I thought we could utilise these large groups of people in a productive way.  Lots of prisons in the USA use prisoners to make things as it reduces the tedium of being locked up.

So I thought we could build factories within prisons that companies could use to manufacture their goods.  They would have to pay the prison service say minimum wage for each of the prisoners that they employed and in turn each of the prisoners would be paid the standard prison rate for a day’s work.   This way we are paying the prisoner for the work they do and funding the upkeep of prisons, so there could be no accusations of generating “slave” labour.

I think a combined approach of treating addiction and educating criminals should give them the skills and opportunities to lead a crime free life; with the threat there that if they don’t change their ways then we will come down very hard on them and remove them from society. 

Now for the purpose of this blog I think we have to ignore the legal technicalities about just what we would have to do to bring back the death penalty. 

The death penalty is a highly controversial issue, and just about everyone in the UK has an opinion on it. Some people want to bring it back to hang rapist, paedophiles and murders. While on the other hand there are people who think we should never bring it back, as there is a risk that we could always hang an innocent person, as it has been shown in the UK and around the world that there have been miscarriages of justice which have led to some innocent people being executed.

Now I can see both points of view and sympathise with them on both counts.  It would be a great tragedy to find out that we brought back the death penalty and latter executed someone who had been framed for a serious crime. We have notable incidents in our recent history of this happening with both Derek Bentley and Timothy Evens.  Both of whom it was later found out that they were innocent of the crime they had been accused of.  Now if this were to happen today with the death penalty then I think the British public would be angered and demand that we got rid of it and made sure we never brought it back.

There is also the opinion that executing someone is not the way to go, and the state should not punish someone by killing them.  As this is not punishment its revenge and that it would be more of a punishment to let this person have to live out the rest of their life in prison.  Also arguing that it’s cruel and inhumane to kill someone as you are not treating them like a human being, and prison should be a deterrent enough.  

However this argument I personally find the weakest of those against the death penalty.  Now in the UK a mandatory life sentence does not mean that we send the person to prison for life, the average murder only tends to serve 14 years in prison for murder.  We have to consider that is prison really a deterrent for murder?  I think we can say for a lot of people prison is not really a deterrent for most crimes so why would murder be any different. 

However I think we need to look at just who commits murder and the reality of it is murder is committed by loved ones and friends, and tends not to be a premeditated thing and more of a spur of the moment rage.  Where someone snaps and kills someone they care about.  Personally I think using the death penalty for these people in 99% of cases would be the wrong thing to do.  I think it would send the wrong message to society that if you kill someone then we will kill you. 

But I do think that there are some situations where the death penalty would have a use in today’s modern society.  There are some crimes that truly do shock society we see the likes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Stephen Griffiths, Dennis Nilsen, Steve Wright and Ian Huntley.  Whose crimes were predatory, sexual and violent in horrific nature and causing fear and terror in the areas that they operated in. 

We accept that prison is there to rehabilitate offenders and be able to release people who do not pose a possible threat to the safety of other people.  Now nearly all of the prison population would fit in to this category but those listed above and a small minority of other prisoners are never going to be safe to release in to modern society.  The risk of them killing again is too high, and it would be a dangerous move to release a psychopathic killer back in to polite society.

So instead in the current situation these people are left to live out the rest of their natural life in prison with no possibility of release.  They can be in prison for 20, 30, and 40 years plus at an average cost of £47,000 per year.  Now in these cases we also know that these are the persons who committed their vile crimes and there is no doubt about that.

Therefore I propose that for the most egregious crimes where we know that the person would never be released due to the fact that they would just not be safe to release.  That for these evil people the death penalty is more than justifiable and not only would it be legally justifiable but I think the consensus within the population would be that it’s justifiable to punish these people with the death penalty. 

Every time I watch one of these police programs on the telly I always get the feeling that the police are a little frustrated with the criminal justice system.  They do their bit and arrest the suspect and put them before the courts, yet the courts always seem to be very lenient when it comes to sentencing.  

You get the impression that the police know roughly who committed the relevant crimes in a set area but finding the concrete evidence is always an issue.  This is illustrated when the police do catch someone for something like burglary and they are put on trial and duly convicted; its then at that point that the burglar asks for other crimes to be taken in to consideration when passing sentence, which the judge does and they normally get a few more months in prison as a result. 

However the way I see things is we have the Law there as a deterrent to stop people committing crime with a punishment attached to it.  Now I think for the average person the risk of being sent to prison for something is not one that they want to take, as within the majority of society there is still a stigma attached to having been to prison.   

However for some people that stigma doesn’t apparently matter as there are a fair few people out there with a string of criminal convictions, which is illustrated by the UK’s re-offending rate.  Now there will be some people who will argue that people re-offend because prison doesn’t work and that these people are a perfect example as to why we shouldn’t keep sending people back to prison. 

However I think I have to disagree with that argument, I think they re-offend because prison fails to tackle the underlying issues of these people.  Prison is supposed to be about re-habilitating people who have done wrong so that when they are released they can be valued members of society.  If we are not going to tackle Mr Jones drug problem while he is in prison then when he comes out he’s only going to commit more crime to fund his drug addiction. 

This is where sentencing comes in to play, if Mr Jones has a drug problem then sending him to prison for a few weeks from burglary is not going to fix Mr Jones, his drug problem or reduce his likelihood to reoffend. 

Judges normally have a large amount of freedom when it comes to sentencing, as in most cases the guidelines published are nowhere near the maximum penalty they could hand out. Now if we made it mandatory that anyone with a drug or alcohol problem as part of their sentence had to go through rehabilitation, then we would reduce the likelihood that they would re-offend upon release.  Now obviously this wouldn’t be a cheap thing to do, and in a time of economic austerity some people would think it to be hard to justify the funding of such a program.  But I think there are ways around the funding issues, however we currently have 88,000 prisoners who are not really doing a lot.  If we were to utilise these people in making something or producing things they could actually generate a revenue stream that could be used to fund proper rehabilitation. 

So instead of sending Mr Jones to prison for 26 weeks, who then on release goes straight back to a life of crime to fund his drug problem, we would send him to prison to properly rehabilitate him so when he comes out he’s a productive member of society.  Now yes it would mean sending him to prison for longer, having him get clean from drugs and having him and the other prisoners work but in the long term it should reduce crime and the amount of money we spend catching people, prosecuting them and subsequently locking them up.  Prison should be about rehabilitation and punishment then it should work to the benefit of society.