Monday, 3 December 2018

A Missed Opportunity

I attended the wonderful Longford Lecture last week. It was a new format with 4 Longford scholars answering questions from the expert interviewer John Snow. 

The theme of the evening was “Why people stop doing crime” 

A microphone was passed throughout the audience to allow us to ask questions or make statements to the panel. 

I missed a golden opportunity to pose a theory that has been burning in my mind for a few months now. But then again, if I had raised my head above the parapet the Tartan Con would have had a face to go with the name , wouldn’t they?

Now I don’t want to go off on a rant here but :

I wanted to say this…

People will not stop doing crime until such times as society wants them to.

There, I've said it. 

I believe that everyone has the power to change if they want to and society lets them. 

Before I go on, I make no slight against any of you wonderful organisations that help my fellow prisoners upon release whether it be with employment, education etc. No. My issue is with society and its members who would rather not think that the person being released today could be their neighbour tomorrow. You people, who would rather be a member of the parts of society that best suit you not society as a whole. 

You see, I believe we are a retributional society. I think somewhere in the dark recesses of its mind, society enjoys punishing people.  Not only that, I think that it enjoys learning of the badness of others, it enjoys learning of “lags” being sent to jail. The amount if times I hear “well he/she wouldn’t be in jail if he/she hadn’t done something wrong” grows daily as I move outside my comfort zone of speaking with those who believe as I do. When I counter this with, “Ok, can we talk about the remand prisoners? The ones who have not been found guilty of any crime” I get “Well they must have done something wrong to get into jail”

You see, Society inflicts its more severe punishment on those that it deems has (or may have) flouted its rules and regulations. It removes from the individual the very structure that could help that individual, if indeed they have transgressed, the family. It moves the individual many miles from their known surroundings, locks them up and throws away the key; sometimes indefinitely but more often than not for a set period of time. 

When that period of time is at an end, society then decides to welcome the individual back into its fold. “With open arms?”, I hear you ask. Regrettably, no. At the very time when Society’s obligation to its apparently newly reformed citizen is at its highest, it abandons him. During his time in prison society tells him of the wonderful things it will do for him if he will only stick to the rules, attend the right “behavioural classes” and become a good boy, a reformed character if you will. It tells him he will get work (after all here’s a certificate from prison showing that he is able to put balloons into a bag). It tells him where he must live but doesn’t provide him with accommodation and it tells him that if he is possibly 5 minutes late for a meeting with a supervisor that he will end up back in jail. 

Is society then not setting him up to re-offend?

The Longford Lecture this year show-cased 4 remarkable individuals. Highly motivated, highly intelligent and wanting to give back to the society that punished them. They want to continue to help others even after their sentence has finished and technically their debt to society paid.  That must be applauded. Indeed, they have my respect and gratitude. But they are 4 individuals pushing against a flow of people leaving custody with no hope, no set plan other than attending their probation officer on a weekly basis. 

Society is waiting for a lot of these people to re-offend. My goodness, many of those leaving custody do just that. Upwards of 60% of those sentenced to less than one year in custody reoffend within their first year of liberty.  Do these people want to reoffend? Do they want to continue to commit crime? I say that the vast majority do not. Look, you will always have the “Norman Stanley Fletchers” of the world for whom “Prison is an occupational hazard” but I earnestly believe that “Fletch” is the exception not the rule.

Why do people stop doing crime? They don’t because you won’t let them. 

Of course, it’s just my opinion, I could be wrong