Sunday, 8 July 2007

A Criminal "Justice" Triumph

Since March, I have been regularly documenting the efforts of the government to reduce prison numbers. On Friday, 29th June, the government freed up 1,100 prison spaces, a feat that they achieved by releasing 1,100 criminals into the community early. Two days ago, the prison service trumpeted the freeing up of 1,500 prison places (by releasing 1,500 prisoners early). Now, the inevitable has happened:

A gang of criminals released early from prison to help reduce overcrowding were arrested on suspicion of robbery less than two hours after being freed.

Police detained the three men on a train between Leicester and Nottingham after a passenger claimed they had forced him to hand over hundreds of pounds.

The alleged robbery took place shortly after the three inmates, two aged 19 and one aged 20, were released early from Glen Parva Young Offenders Institute in Leicester where they had all been serving sentences for assault.

At the time of the alleged incident last Monday, the youths, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were travelling to an appointment with their probation officer.

Despite all three later being charged with robbery, British Transport Police decided to release them on bail pending an appearance in court.

The Sunday Telegraph has discovered that, despite a promise not to free criminals convicted of serious offences, at least 19 inmates found guilty of violent crimes have been released early.

They include a man serving a sentence at Durham prison for affray after brandishing a samurai sword in public and telling passers-by he would chop them up; seven men convicted of domestic violence and several inmates previously deemed too dangerous to qualify for Home Detention Curfew.

Yes, the safety of the public may have been jeopardised, but don't you just feel so much better knowing that these poor unfortunates no longer have to endure cramped conditions in prison, but are now as free as you or me?

Well, no, if you were the man who was robbed on the Nottingham train by the early-release thugs then you probably wouldn't feel better knowing that those thugs had been spared a modicum of richly-deserved discomfort. But some people think that the government has not gone nearly far enough. Juliet Lyon, of the Prison Reform Trust, one of a number of organisations dedicated to promoting the interests of criminals, had this to say:
When new ministers are able to put in place proper provision for the 50,000 people a year who serve sentences of less than six months, then we will see the prison population drop back to a sensible level.
What she means by "proper provision" or "a sensible level" is anybody's guess, although I'd imagine that the former means "more frequent and earlier early releases". As for the latter, well, the Prison Reform Trust's website says, pointedly, that in 1993 only 45,000 people were in prison, as against 81,000 now. It does not seem unreasonable to assume that this is the kind of level Miss Lyon wishes to return to. To put that in context, that's an extra 36,000 criminals loose in our streets.

Of course, I don't suppose that Miss Lyon would be one of those who'd suffer as a result of this. Those who shout the loudest for criminals' rights tend to live in rather nice crime-free suburbs.

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