The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Policeman Not Happy With My Lot

This is an edited version of PCMidlands' recent comment:-
At that age, I believe criminals can be reformed. This can only be done with prison..........

The main problem is that magistrates believe that their job is to rehabilitate rather than to punish and protect the public. That is why there is a great deal of anger towards them.

PCM's view is held by a lot of people these days, but without doubting his sincerity, I think that he has got it wrong.
Prison is not the 'only' way to reform criminals (especially immature ones of 17 or younger) and it is not even the best way. We have, albeit inadvertently, allowed the rise of a disaffected underclass of uneducated and unemployable young men, among whom you may find loathing of the police, a casual use of drink and drugs, and a propensity to violence, often inflicted as a recreational activity. For some, their day to day life is so squalid and useless that release is only found in the needle and the pipe. If their violence presents a threat to the public, few would argue with incarcerating them simply to keep them off the streets. During that incarceration they would, ideally, be confronted with their behaviour and helped to become of use to society and to themselves. Simply to brutalise them further may satisfy the desire to punish them but runs the probable risk that they will wreak revenge on society when they are eventually released. Attempting rehabilitation is hard work, expensive, and unglamorous. It often results in failure. But surely it's worth a try?
PCM's second point, about magistrates, entirely misunderstands our function. We are there to operate the law as enacted by Parliament. The Bench Book gives all of the many criteria that must be met if we are to impose custody. We must give reasons in open court. We follow a structured sentencing process, considering whether there is any alternative to prison. We do not have the luxury of deciding between rehabilitation and punishment, but we must follow the law. The sentencing process is one in which we are directed by Parliament and guided by the higher courts and the Sentencing Guidelines Council. Not all of us like being so boxed in, but it's the law, so it's the way we have to do it