You know what they say about great minds

The Times – Prison officers: our finest public servants<br/> Let’s have more prisons and longer sentences, by Theodore Dalrymple (a retired prison doctor. His latest book is Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy)

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the prison officers were the only public servants left in Britain who had any real sense of public duty. Given the choice – not that I would want it – between a world run by the Prison Officers’ Association and one run by the Home Office, I would choose the former any day of the week. To begin with, the prison officers are much more intelligent than the Home Office.

The prison officers still have the esprit de corps that the Government has made it its business to destroy in the NHS, the police, the schools and the universities


Millions of crimes a year are committed by people already on probation or just released after short sentences, and such sentences let every victim know that the State does not take his victimisation seriously. They make burglary and other crime a rational choice, especially given the low rate of detection. (One burglary in every twelve reported ends in conviction, and one conviction in thirteen ends in a prison sentence, which means that burglars, on average, serve about one day per burglary in prison. Given the value of unskilled labour on the market, it is a very poor burglar who cannot steal more than one day’s wages from a house.)

Short sentences encourage the intimidation of witnesses: the most sinister sentence in English after “If I can’t have her, no one else will” is “Remember, I’ll be walking the same streets as you in six weeks”. No wonder so many criminal trials collapse for lack of evidence. And short sentences discourage the police, who labour mightily –– scores of forms to fill per arrest, just to begin with –– to produce the briefest of interludes in criminal careers.


Who are the victims of crime, statistically speaking? Not the top people who read The Times. It is the poor. Indeed, it is criminality that makes life in the poorest areas of our cities such a torment, not sheer lack of wherewithal to live. So while it is true that most criminals come from the poorest section of society, it is also true that most victims are from the same section. (Burglars are not great travellers to “work”, as they sometimes call their activity on account of its regularity and the discipline it imposes upon them: they steal, often repeatedly, from those around them.)

Failure to imprison criminals is thus a weaselly betrayal of the poor by the well-to-do middle classes who do not want their taxes used in this way. After all, the middle classes can buy insurance, barricade themselves behind expensive security arrangements and, if the worst comes to the worst, ensure that the police do something on their behalf. None of this is possible for the poor.

And the kicker:

The solution to our prison crisis is to double the number of prisons at least, and to pass much longer sentences on those sent to prison. Without this, Britain will continue to be for millions of its citizens what it is now: a failed state. And, as usual, the prison officers have a far better grasp of all this than their supposed superiors.

Everyone’s in such an uproar over the person who murdered poor little Rhys Jones, but what do they think’s going to happen to him when he’s been found? It’s as if they think if he turns himself in and lets himself be hated by the newspapers as he awaits his trial, that will be enough. Then he’ll be put in a juvenile facility for a few weeks and be out again before his next birthday. Probably. Assuming he’s a kid. If not, then certainly before he’s too old to still look menacing under a hooded sweatshirt.