Being the bleeding heart lefty that I am

Yes, I do sign up for this from Sir Brian Barder.

Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection are an abomination.

Fair enough when the determination is of, as an example, mental illness. A sectioning of indeterminate time until that mental illness is dealt with seems entirely reasonable. We don\’t hold the mentally ill responsible for their actions: we only ask that there\’s some idea that they won\’t do it again before they come out for a pint with their mates.

However, an indeterminate sentence for a criminal act, one where responsibility, the possibility of it, is acknowledged, is that abomination.

So while I do, as entirely the bleeding heart lefty that I am, support the abolition of such sentences, I do wish that Sir BB hadn\’t relied so much on the economic cost. The cost of keeping such in prison.

There really are things more important than economics and civil liberties are one of them (umm, many of them?).

That you\’ve both done the crime and served the time is it. Over. Done with.

There is no possibility whatsoever of having any even vague approximation to a free society if you can be jailed, with criminal responsibility, for what you might do in the future. Sectioned, as a nutter, yes. Jailed for what you might do, no.

So while I support the idea I\’d just like to slip in this important point: there are things far, far, more important than economics or money or the taxpayers\’ wallet. The freedom and liberty of us all being one (or many) of them.

So let\’s call this locking up of people for what they might do what it is: an abomination.

An abomination that has no place in either the society that we are, a reasonably free one, or in the society that we wish to become, a free one.

14 thoughts on “Being the bleeding heart lefty that I am”

  1. Thanks for this support, Tim. I agree of course that the waste of money involved in keeping IPPers indefinitely behind bars after they have done their bird is the least cogent of the arguments against the system — at any rate in the eyes of Bleeding Heart Lefties like (?) you and (undeniably) me. But we live under a predominantly Tory government now, and it’s only common sense to deploy the arguments likeliest to appeal to a Tory if we want to persuade ministers and their MPs in parliament to get rid of this indefensible regime. The argument as to cost is perfectly valid, and consistent with the argument from justice and common humanity, so there’s nothing wrong with deploying them all. Or so it seems to me, anyway.

  2. What do you think of the idea of “3 strikes” laws (where the 3rd felony results in a life sentence).

    Is there any justification for that?


  3. “What do you think of the idea of “3 strikes” laws (where the 3rd felony results in a life sentence).”

    I’m comfortable with escalating sentences for serial crimes. If you cannot take the opportunity for redemption, then you need to spend progressively more and more time away from society. And yes, in the end, that would mean being locked up for years/forever for stealing a slice of pizza.

    “Three strikes” seems more like a gimmick, though. Perhaps a tariff multiplier that doubles for each conviction (x1 for first offence, x2 for second, x4 for third, etc.). By the tenth conviction, you’d be sentenced to 1024 times as long as for a first offence for that crime. A serial robber is clearly just a menace, and so 1024 x 6 months = 500 years inside = community no longer predated upon.

  4. A serial robber is clearly just a menace

    Yes, but a serial pizza-thief who doesn’t use violence or domestic burglary to acquire their pizza is a minor annoyance. I’m not sure how you can morally justify locking such a person up at all, nevermind forever.

  5. @john b – it’s trivially easy. Why don’t you try?

    People who steal food from others – ffs! We used to /hang/ thieves for stealing a lough of bread. And now your questioning that we should lock them up. It’s you who’s moral system is screwed.

  6. @DavidNcl

    We used to transport criminals to Australia. People now pay huge sums to fly there on holiday …

    I think JohnB’s point can be trivially extended to “the punishment for the crime should fit the harm to society”. Barring other factors more to do with rehabilitation (extending a sentence so that a prisoner would be eligible for treatment for drug addiction, for example), which may be morally justified if not legally ‘nice’ (in the old meaning of the term.)

    Low value thefts absent violence or other aggravating factors should be considered as such. 10 slices of pizza – call it £30 aggregated? Okay, £50 if you are a Londoner. Yes, the person is an annoyance to society but hardly a threat to it. Now, somebody who beats somebody up and steals the £10 they had left for their taxi fare – I believe that is more worthy of incarceration, despite both the lesser monetary value and the single offence.

    The problem with the “3 strikes” law isn’t so much the ‘3’ as the ‘felony’. Minor drugs possession being a felony (US Federal, I believe), you can be in for life having been caught in possession of a dodgy roll-up three times. Again – punishment to fit the crime. There are so-many methods to commit crimes and reasons to do so that any rigid rules are likely to lead to unfair results.

  7. But it fits very well with the ongoing efforts to get the ‘right’ answer to questions which exercise the ruling class doesn’t it?

  8. Yes, what DO you do with a serial rapist, after his third violently committed rape, do you really want him out there committing another ? If he is released, unrepentant, and he immediately commits another, surely those who released him should be prosecuted for being morally complicit in the crime ?

    Three strikes can work JohnB, if you define what does or does not qualify. In most attempts at those sorts of laws (see NZ’s latest), stealing a Pizza in that way would not qualify to be treated under the three strikes law. But, again, what do you reasonably do with someone who persistently refuses to recognize at least some reasonable social norms. That can be a slippery slope indeed, but, a person wanders into any house to sleep, takes what ever they fancy and never provides anything back, just because they want to. Are they mentally ill, perverse, criminal ? Who knows, but at some point removing them from the general society must be a benefit for the great majority of people.

  9. I have to say, I do like Kay Tie’s idea of a tariff multiplier. Apply it to any punishment that results from a guilty verdict (so minor offences resulting in a fine – the fine would be multiplied) and have it double each time and you’d quickly see real deterrent punishments and hence (with any luck) reduce re-offending.

  10. IPP sentences are not quite what you think. They are basically restoring life sentences for crimes where life sentences are well warranted, but rarely applied. In all cases carrying IPP sentences I am pretty sure the offence carried a maximum of life before, and carries a maximum of IPP now.

    (This is my understanding, however I am not a lawyer though and I haven’t double-checked this, and have been known to be wrong before. Please correct me if it is so here.)

    The problem with IPP is a moral and philosophical one, but not the one you think. The problem is the abandonment of just punishment as a justification for, erm, punishment, and relying on protection as a justification instead.

    So the issue is the existing reluctance to make life mean life even in the worst cases. Now, no matter how bad your crime, life scarcely ever means life unless you are thought likely to do it again. It’s cases like Roy Whiting, who committed an abduction and serious sexual assault, carrying a maximum of life, but was given 4 years, and was out in 2 and a half, then went on to kill.

    We should be locking up more people for longer, because they deserve it. We should be willing to say “you will be locked up forever because you deserve to be locked up forever for what you did”.

    And no, I don’t agree with incarcerating people because they are supposed by the authorities to be dangerous nutters. Because, you see, unless and until they actually commit a crime they are supposed to be likely to commit, that is all you have – supposition.

    This wouldn’t make a great deal of difference – it’s mostly a protection for the eccentric. Most dangerous nutters commit multiple violent attacks before going anywhere near sectioning as it is. All I am saying is there should be at least *one* before anyone is incarcerated indefinitely against their will.

    Tim adds: No, IPP sentences seem to be much easier than that. Started out as possible for anything which had a maximum sentence of 10 years and then changed into any offence where the standard sentence (ie, tariff) would be two years.

  11. I agree with Tina’s idea is multipliers and also the comments on making the 3 strikes law applies to “serious” felonies only (pizza stealing not included).
    (Also think–never thought I would say this–that we have to make most (all?) drugs legal simply because we can’t win that battle and we are making crime very profitable for drug dealers)
    Maybe if we make being in prison really unpleasant (as in hard, hard work unpleasant, not dangerous unpleasant) for minor offenders, we could use that to scare pizza stealers out of repeat crimes without having to lock them up forever.

  12. Thanks for the reference. You are correct about IPP applying to crimes carrying 10 years in prison, I did not know that.

    Bottom line is there is no real difference between an IPP and a life sentence. The question is whether a life sentence is justified by the offence.

    However you are wrong about the 2 years. According to that reference the crime must carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. The 2 year reference is that it must be a crime, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years, for which the offender would have been sentenced to at least 2 years. This is in theory a tightening-up of the rules, to prevent IPP being given in circumstances where it would be manifestly unjust.

    As such, it is essentially applying a maximum life sentence to all offences previously carrying a maximum of 10 years, at the discretion of the judge.

    Those are serious offences, and since I think sentencing is currently too wishy-washy, I am not sure whether I might approve of that. Does anyone have examples of offences currently carrying 10 years where a life sentence would be manifestly unjust in every case?

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