Readers may recall that a few weeks ago the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, was tub-thumping about Ian Huntley, and proudly saying that he would never be freed from jail. I was sceptical about his motives for doing this at the time, and my suspicions were subsequently justified when it became apparent that some particularly loathsome murderers were up for parole that week, and Falconer needed to create a distraction, and keep up the pretence that our government is "tough on crime".
Now, Falconer is back in the media, indicating that judges may be obliged to consider the availability of prison spaces when sentencing. Given that we are constantly being told that our prisons are full up (a claim of which I am very sceptical - it's not as if it's standing room only in there, is it?), this is likely to mean that criminals who would currently get jail will be let loose on our streets, probably with a community sentence.
I'm not intransigently opposed to community sentences, provided their use is strictly limited. They do, perhaps, have their place, and may sometimes be a reasonable response to, say, a minor crime committed by a first time offender. But the kind of people who would currently be getting prison (and not enough criminals get prison as it is) are likely to be hardened recidivists or those who have committed pretty heinous crimes. Letting such people out on the street is simply not acceptable. If we are not going to properly punish even repeat offenders, what is the point of having a justice system at all?