Thursday, 19 May 2016
In life, we are told, we get out only as much as we put in. We are fed life-affirming aphorisms in a steady drip, drip, drip, to keep us on the right and righteous path. You can be anything you want to be, if you put in the effort. Reach for the sky. Keep your nose clean. Work hard, play hard. To the victor, the spoils. And on it goes; do as you’re told, the world needs people who do as they’re told and of course, virtue is its own reward. Don’t you love that last one? No, you can’t have a pay rise, but keep up the good work for the sheer thrill of doing good work.
But of course it’s true; the human world thrives on the labours of those who go the extra mile. The volunteers, the perfectionists, those who do indeed find virtue in becoming so good at what they do that their financial remuneration is outstripped by the sheer satisfaction of being the best, in all walks of life. For those who can’t be the best there is still the warm glow of providing for your family, of standing on your own two feet. Or, of course, in our wonderful welfare universe, there is always the opportunity to stand on the feet of others.
Another old saying is that it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and central to yesterday’s Queen’s speech was oiling a squeak that gets worse with every passing decade. That some people need to be removed from society can be without doubt. Serial violent offenders who will not or cannot reform obviously need to be prevented from pursuing their destructive patterns of behaviour. But what of the others; is jail time a suitable punishment for people who haven’t paid parking fines... or intemperate tweeters?
Is the answer soft prison, or as is being suggested part-time prison? Or turn-around prison where those who have resisted education thus far are force fed skills and knowledge that will get them work? Or iPad prison, which for some will be much the same as usual, whiling away the days watching YouTube and Snapchatting penis pictures to their future victims. Penal reform is a tough one because while nobody seriously disputes the value of rehabilitation it is yet another area where the reward isn’t for endeavour but for displaying contempt.
Work hard at school, go on to college, get qualified, get a job, graft, improve and then spend your life getting by; you’re on your own, mate. But play truant, misbehave, stay in bed, get high and go on the rob to feed your selfish cravings and society diverts ever greater resources in your direction. Resources that could be used to educate the next generation, tend to the sick and pension off the workers end up being consumed by a relatively small population who couldn’t or wouldn’t play by the rules. Again.
Once outside the prison system, the life chances of ex-convicts are poor in the extreme, so it’s little wonder so many become recidivists; they just bounce endlessly between welfare and Wormwood Scrubs. This is what Australia was once for but that avenue is now closed to us. Sadly, the taking classes are also more prolific breeders than the paying classes, so unless real solutions are found this is a problem which can only get worse. Do we pour more good resources after bad, or get more radical with the deterrent?
Yesterday in Parliament...
Punishment is absolutely necessary – prison shouldn’t be a never-ending round of second chances – but in a world where blatant dishonesty pays so well (look no further than pocket-lining politicians for an example) some may feel a few months of incarceration is a small price to pay and soft punishments a slap in the face for the taxpayer. At the heart of penal reform should be the question of exactly what type of behaviour we wish to encourage.