No prison for tealeafs!

This Marxist stuff has really dug itself into the establishment, hasn\’t it?

Professor Andrew Ashworth QC, who for three years chaired a body which helped formulate sentencing policy in England and Wales, said even persistent offenders should be fined or given a community sentence.

Prisoners suffer uncomfortable conditions, isolation from their family, loss of autonomy and loss of privacy, said the professor, and it is “disproportionate” to impose such a punishment on someone who committed a property crime.

“In principle … no person should ever be subjected to the pains of imprisonment for a ‘pure property offence’, even if they have done it many times before,” he said in a paper for the Howard League for Penal Reform.

“For an offence that amounts to no more than a deprivation of property, it is difficult to justify a deprivation of such a fundamental right as that to personal liberty.”

Y\’know, it\’s only a crime against property so why worry?

The problem with this is of course that it\’s not really just a crime against property. It\’s a crime against the owner of the property, their deprivation of it. It\’s a breach of the rights of someone else therefore: of to jail you go Scot Boy.

48 comments on “No prison for tealeafs!

  1. He might actually have a point but I can’t see in that article what he proposes as an alternative to prison.

    Clearly these things remain “crimes” and should attract some form of punishment but I would be open-minded as to whether or not prison is the best punishment for them.

    Remember: putting people in prison costs us money so on top of the personal loss to the victim, we all lose a little bit every time a thief gets put in prison for a few months.

    Now, if we’re talking about dishing out more “community service” type punishments then that could well be a better solution all round.

    The thief gets punished, we get our streets cleaned (or whatever).

    Unless Prof Ashworth is thinking more along the lines of certain other cultures’ methods of dealing with thieves (i.e. chopping their hands off) then I wouldn’t necessarily discount the general thrust out of hand (no pun intended).

  2. As ever, I find myself coming back to the fact that prison is really, really expensive. More so than, say, Eton. And I rather resent having to pay to provide all that.

    I would, therefore, rather see them fined or doing something useful. Like mending roads &c.

  3. It’s horrific, isn’t it?
    One gets the feeling that matey Ashworth has rarely, if ever, been on the sharp end of theft or burglary or any other mere property crime.
    On the other hand, it’s nice to have this point of view out in the open. Sentencing has nearly taken this line for some time and only now can one make a coherent argument against it without being told that one is “exaggerating”.
    Personally, I’m very taken with the arguments Terry Pratchet makes in Going Postal, where the cost of the main character’s fraud is given in terms of lives lost.
    But even without that sort of argument, the calculus of “rights” seems a pretty pathetic tool for analysing crime and punishment/prevention.
    A quick look at those cases of theft which do currently result in (very short) prison terms makes it pretty clear that they represent situations where the judiciary throws its arms up in despair and says “WTF else can we do?”

    I quite agree with the commenters above that prison is expensive and should not be used as the main, or only, deterrent, but what else do they advocate? Please, please, don’t just say “community service”. It really has very little effect, not least because its implementation is largely laughable IMHO.

  4. As usual, everyone focuses on the wrong end of the problem. The ignored factor is that the kind of property crime we’re talking about here – burglary, twoccing, and so-on – is generally an entirely reasonable response to the balance of incentives the perpetrators face: a lout with about three days schooling in total is essentially unemployable already, so has very little to lose and a lot to gain.

    We can increase the disincentives through things like tougher jail sentences and more police, with the attendant downsides, or we could pay a lot more attention to not allowing a sizeable group to get into a situation where petty crime is a sensible life choice.

  5. If jails are overcrowded and uncomfortable then look at ALL the reasons for people being put in jail. In America they seem to be doing this and realising that locking up the vast majority of people for drugs offences when in 99% of the cases it’s simple possession is not a good thing. It will be the case here too. So yes, jail people found guilty of property theft. But don’t jail people for doing something that a lot of other people do and is only seen as a crime by the righteous.

  6. Please, please, don’t just say “community service”. It really has very little effect, not least because its implementation is largely laughable IMHO.

    well, there’s the rub, ain’t it? If ‘community service’ means a bit of road sweeping and they don’t bother turning up, or talking to old dears and using the opportunities to case the joint for future thefts, then you’re right, of course. But I’m sure there are some pretty shitty jobs that need doing and a few people watching over them and actually making them do it wouldn’t go amiss.

    Although, since we’re on the topic, the main and immediate problem i can see with community sentencing is that those shitty jobs are probably currently done by people who are charging rather a lot and don’t want their source of income taken away.

  7. Has anyone ever asked why prison is so expensive? I understand we can’t make it free, but for normal security, putting people into hotel rooms with locks really shouldn’t be very expensive…

  8. A Professor and a QC. I assume he is not short of a bob or 2. Perhaps he should advertise his address online saying that he will go into court to ask the judge not to send anybody who burgles him to any involuntary sentence. Or perhaps his ivory tower would still be to remote for the criminal classes to find.

  9. @dearieme – not a bad suggestion but it can only be done once. Repeat offenders would get off scot free. Unless you started to lop off other appendages. Someone comprised of just a torso and a head probably couldn’t get up to much mischief but the care bill would be as horrendous as the prison bill.

  10. Redwood seems to be channelling the popular idea among american style libertarians/anarcho capitalists of treating the criminal law like the civil law, with compensation instead of punishment. The problem is, most people want criminals punished in some way, not just restitution. Compensatory arrangements under civil law are basically about “dispute resolution” rather than punishment for criminality. It’s a different paradgim, which is why there are two brances of law.

    One basic problem with compensatory law is that a thief is then incentivised to do a profit and loss analysis. If he is caught for less than 100% of his thefts (very likely) then the compensation he must pay is less than his income, which makes theft economically rational.

    This is also a problem for other crimes if we switch to a compensatory system. If we take rape, for instance, then the compensation becomes effectively a payment made to the State for permission to rape. A rich man could rape with gay abandon, paying whatever fines are imposed since the marginal utility of his money units is very low. It may well even work out cheaper than the costs of consensual sex. Upper class women are high maintenance, after all.

    So, I think there are a few pitfalls in this “non-punishment” style of law, me.

  11. Dave-

    a lout with about three days schooling in total is essentially unemployable already, so has very little to lose and a lot to gain.

    It’s not just that. In a meritocracy (let’s pretend we are one) with a high (or is it low, can never remember) Gini Index, you have the basic problem that there is only limited space at the top of society and most people born at the bottom are going to stay there, which anyone with an ounce of sense realises. It’s thus economically rational to seek high risk, high gain strategies such as criminality.

    This is one reason I’m a libertarian. I believe that if all the lib theory is correct, a libertarian society will be more equal due to the extended range of genuine opportunity (rather than the current narrow “meritocracy” of hoping for advancement in a relatively narrow range of institutional corporate systems, most of which are directly or indirectly State supported).

  12. “Jail really is expensive. It would be much cheaper just to cut their goollies off”

    Ah, the famous Not The Not O’Clock News sketch with the lovely Pamela Stephenson, fond memories ;)

    I’m all for keeping them out of jail but as others have said for this to work fines have to be paid and community service completed. But if this isn’t a deterrent then what next? This is where magistrates and judges come in to their own and they have to have jail as a last resort.

    I’d also like to see more education as part of their community service and/or prison sentence. Make them study for something useful that can be used work wise then they have fewer excuses.

  13. > We can increase the disincentives through things like tougher jail sentences and more police, with the attendant downsides, or we could pay a lot more attention to not allowing a sizeable group to get into a situation where petty crime is a sensible life choice.

    Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.

  14. One basic problem with compensatory law is that a thief is then incentivised to do a profit and loss analysis.

    You’re not wrong, but surely there is an extent to which this happens anyway. If you live in a shithole and have no prospects* then you may as well go out thieving since the consequences of getting lifted are, at worst, going to prison and receiving three square meals a day gratis &c. if you’re really lucky, you may learn some occupational skills whilst you’re in there.

    The higher up the scale you are, the more likely it is that prison will represent a significant punishment.

    *I was going to say “and no morals”, but that’s an uncomfortable argument, since I essentially hold that you have the morals you can afford. I, for example, hold that stealing someone’s telly to sell for drugs is wrong, but stealing a loaf from a bakery because your child is starving is forgiveable. However, once I’ve accepted the latter, we’re really just haggling over the price, aren’t we?

  15. I would feel a tad happier if the various sociopaths, who have spoiled my outlook on life by their thefts, frauds or gbh, got a good lashing, some salt for their wounds and were sent on their way. In addition keeping the overheads of deterrence and punishment down, it may be a spectacle,worth paying for a ticket to observe their comeuppance.

  16. Ian>

    “In a meritocracy (let’s pretend we are one) with a high (or is it low, can never remember) Gini Index, you have the basic problem that there is only limited space at the top of society and most people born at the bottom are going to stay there, which anyone with an ounce of sense realises. It’s thus economically rational to seek high risk, high gain strategies such as criminality.”

    No. The Gini is irrelevant, at least in this regard. What matters is the difference between the quality of life at the bottom, and life-at-the-bottom-with-stealing-and-occasional-jailtime. The level of absolute wealth is the determinant there. Relative wealth differences may be the driver to action, but the choice of action is based on the absolute wealth of the actors.

    It’s worth noting that the spur to do something that results from seeing someone else with stuff they want is, even in the case of those who choose thievery, a drive to economic activity. That their best choice is destructive, illegal activity is the state’s failing, since it has responsibility for their education (and in many cases, upbringing too). The cost of prison is not only the bill for keeping people locked up, but also the lost economic gains we’d have seen if their drive to action had been better directed.

  17. Ian Reid>

    “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.”

    It’s a good slogan, because it is actually the right recipe for reducing crime. Problem is, governments only ever focus on the first half. If we’re to do anything about the second, we need to have a pretty radical reform of the education system. Or just wait, of course, because eventually even the poorest in the UK will be rich enough that petty crime won’t be worthwhile as long as the policing’s fairly strict.

  18. I know these kids. I’ve worked in the areas we’re talking about, I know their problems, I know their frustrations, lack of community facilities, I know their parents. 
    And in my opinion Dearieme’s suggestion that we should cut off their goolies is the only solution!

  19. @ The Prole

    I’ve always wondered how it manages to be so expensive.. assuming the figures we see quoted are fair.

    I can see that having to be staffed up enough to deal with ‘situations’ 24 hours a day would pile on the costs… but I’d be fascinated to see where all the money goes.

  20. Sam-

    You’re not wrong, but surely there is an extent to which this happens anyway. If you live in a shithole and have no prospects* then you may as well go out thieving since the consequences of getting lifted are, at worst, going to prison and receiving three square meals a day gratis &c. if you’re really lucky, you may learn some occupational skills whilst you’re in there.

    This is a major problem with any humane punishment system. It’s hard to make it deterrent enough. I think an interesting example was actually the Victorian workhouse system. The conditions were frequently by any standard monstrous, but people still went there because not being there was even worse.

    This is why one of my “themes” is trying to argue to relieve the financial pressure on those at the bottom of society, which is why I’m against hiking up the costs of housing, energy and “proletarian luxuries” with Pigou taxes. The better the life you can have on a low wage, with a bit of disposable income, the less incentive there is to jack it in and go nicking, etc.

  21. *I was going to say “and no morals”, but that’s an uncomfortable argument, since I essentially hold that you have the morals you can afford. I, for example, hold that stealing someone’s telly to sell for drugs is wrong, but stealing a loaf from a bakery because your child is starving is forgiveable. However, once I’ve accepted the latter, we’re really just haggling over the price, aren’t we?

    Also, this is +1 insightful.

  22. Isn’t locking people up principally about protecting the rest of us from their depradations, rather than punishment/rehabilitation/deterrence? Sure the latter come into it, but mostly burglars off the streets is – despite the cost of keeping them inside – better value than having them on the streets (or rather, in my house).

    So ideally, we would have a 100% accurate magic machine that determines how long someone is likely to be a menace. If you’ll never burgle again, agreed, little point in locking you up. If you once stole an apple but the magic machine reckons you will carry on doing it for 25 years, then it’s 25 years for you.

    Rich people raping with gay [sic] abandon? Well, we already have a system in which the rapist can come to a financial agreement with their victim not to press charges. And even if the prosecutors press charges, if the key witness is paid such that they are unwilling to testify, you have a problem.

    I also struggle to understand how this is “Marxist”, except in the modern trend to use political labels as insult rather than a succinct description of a political position which, while we might disagree with, can at least agree on a broad enough definition of the label to use it as shorthand when debating it. To my ignorant view, Marxism is primarily an economic philosophy, not one of criminal justice (though obviously there is some connection between the two), and on my very cursory reading, one that seems to be founded in a high degree of rationally-interpreted observation but which drew a lot of wrong conclusions and came up with what is now an empirically-discredited (as well as philosophically flawed) prescription for the faults of the system it described.

  23. In DSK’s case the alleged victim brought a civil suit against DSK after the criminal charges were dropped by the prosecution (because they didn’t think they could convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt). DSK then settled for an ‘undisclosed amount’. We don’t have a “system in which the rapist can come to a financial agreement with their victim not to press charges.” We have a system in which the respondent can settle the civil case with the plaintiff before the civil trial begins.

  24. So in our system, rapists can pay their victims to not press charges/testify and can thereby evade justice. Yes or no.

  25. “press charges” usually refers to a criminal prosecution, doesn’t it? I’ve never heard it used in terms of a civil case.

    You seem to be conflating criminal, civil and extralegal (that is, outside formal legal processes, e.g. plain bribery or threats) – or at least that’s how it comes across to me.

    But feel free to have an internet point.

  26. I’m not confusing civil and criminal, I might not be a lawyer, I’m not that stupid.

    So you appear to be defending the position that crims cannot buy off witnesses. We have a system in which it is not possible for criminals to avoid being found guilty by means of paying witnesses to not testify.

    I submit that might be true in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

  27. I understood you to be talking about the criminal case because you used the phrase “press charges”.

    Yes, an alleged rapist and alleged victim can agree a settlement in the civil case (if there is one) – just as any respondent and plaintiff can agree a settlement.

    No, there is no formal system, AFAIK, in US or UK criminal cases whereby any alleged offender can agree a settlement with the alleged victim.

    Yes, an alleged offender could privately attempt to bribe (or threaten, or whatever) the alleged victim to persuade her to drop the charges or refuse to testify.

  28. JamesV, you’re being really pathetic here. You said something stupid, and the best thing to do would be to admit that, and move on.

  29. Your understanding that I am talking about criminal cases is correct.

    At no point did I claim there is a “formal” system whereby criminals can buy off witnesses.

    This does however, most definitely, happen. Those who think it doesn’t happen are naive and sheltered “everyone is a gentleman”-libertarians.

  30. Isnt it the case that most “poor” people dont become criminals?

    It is a matter of choice. You choose to steal, you get caught, you pay the penalty that you knew you were risking. As someone said earlier, a burglar off the street is not a burglar i my house. It costs my insurance £2000 for replacing all the forced doors and windows just for an attempted burglary. I doubt that prison works out at much more than that, and if it does, then we need to look at why.

    Lastly, since when does a 1st, or 50th time, burglar go to prison?

  31. It costs my insurance £2000 for replacing all the forced doors and windows just for an attempted burglary. I doubt that prison works out at much more than that, and if it does, then we need to look at why.

    Oh, it does.

    The cost of keeping someone in prison is difficult to compute exactly for a number of reasons, but is usually accepted to be around £40kpp/yr. This varies from year to year, of course; even ceteris paribus it is cheaper to keep a lifer in for his 14th year than it is to incarcerate someone for their first (first year estimates are about £100,000 – £120,000 depending on prison). And someone on full privileges in an open prison is clearly less than someone on suicide watch in a maximum security one.

    Another reason prisons cost so much is insurance. Prisoners are often either not very nice people or locked up with not very nice people and also have lots and lots of incentive to make vexatious claims against their incarcerators. So prisons have to be insured up to the ballocks in case someone gets stabbed into a near vegetative state and sues, or claims to have slipped over on a nice clean floor and ditto.

  32. What I meant is that it costs £2000 for an attempted burglary (alarm worked), but I doubt it would have been the scrotes 1st or last attempt. So £2000 gets multiplied a number of times per potential jail inhabitant.

    I did not know the insurance thing, I am a simple person me, so I am of the opinion that if one chooses not to respect someone’s property or rights, then one should hardly complain when one’s rights are not respected as a consequence.

    If prison is dangerous, then choose not to go there.

  33. It costs £20k-60k per prisoner per year, depending on category and prison.

    Of course it is ultimately a matter of choice to commit crime, but socioeconomic status is a strong predictor of crime rates – individuals are at higher risk of becoming involved in crime if they are poor, unemployed, uneducated. So if ‘you’ want to decrease the risk of people turning to crime you would investigate improving the circumstances of those at greater risk, as Dave, Ian B and Sam suggest.

    Prison is intended to be a punishment and a deterrent, to incapacitate (i.e. prevent them from committing crimes against society while inside) and to rehabilitate / mitigate recidivism (or reoffending). In terms of deterrence, the effectiveness of prison is arguable, I don’t think there is a consensus. Certainly most prisoners are incapacitated. In terms of reducing recidivism, prison on its own isn’t particularly effective, but many people think that schemes intended to reduce recidivism are ‘soft on crime’.

    There is a lack of ‘joined-up thinking’, or a holistic view – on the one hand people want to reduce crime rates but on the other hand schemes that might do so are often politically unpopular.

    Ideally, we would run lots of experiments, measure outcomes and see what works in terms of reducing crime and recidivism. Also look at the what other countries do and see if that works and if it can be improved on. Politically, that seems difficult to do.

    There’s another problem in that people’s perception of crime rates might not reflect reality. I think there was a study published earlier this year that concluded people thought crime was getting worse despite crime rates (from the Crime Survey) were in decline.

  34. Isnt there free education and health care in this country, paid for by taxpayers, to give one a chance in life? Which is a lot more than a lot of countries provide, and if one chooses not to use it, one suffers the consequence. So the excuse of socio economic status wears a bit thin. Especially if it is a matter of not having the latest gadget.

    I also think it is a bit presumptious to say socio economic status is a predictor, as correlation does not mean causation. Saying that however, will provide a ready made excuse to scrotes (although I agree with the example of stealing to actually feed your kid). A majority of socio economic deprived people, the vast majority in fact, do not choose to become scrotes.

    Prison might not work as a deterrent, and frankly I do not care, but it definitely works to keep my house safe whilst a burglar is inside.

  35. As I said, there is a lack of ‘joined-up thinking, as monoi has adequately demonstrated.

    It is like complaining about being overweight while stuffing one’s facehole with crisps, cake, biscuits, chocolate and fizzy drinks and avoiding any exercise.

  36. At no point did I claim there is a “formal” system whereby criminals can buy off witnesses.

    This does however, most definitely, happen. Those who think it doesn’t happen are naive and sheltered “everyone is a gentleman”-libertarians.

    Sure it happens. And we try to stop it happening. If you can find anyone who doesn’t believe it happens, feel free to slag them off, but I think you’re making shit up. The point is, this has nothing to do with your initial claim that, quote-

    Well, we already have a system in which the rapist can come to a financial agreement with their victim not to press charges.

    Does it?

    We don’t have any such “system”.

    If it happens, what is effectively occurring is that the victim is accepting an informal civil settlement, which might make more sense since they’re choosing to prefer compensation over the criminal prosecution. Which in terms of natural justice, they have a right to do. The point is, they should never be obligated to do so.

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