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.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I have just watched the BBC Panorama programme that raised some frightening issues about serious criminals who are sent to bail hostels at the end of their sentences. On the face of it the programme seems to show dangerous offenders who were reverting to their bad old ways while nominally being supervised in the community. The bottom line is simple in my view, and turns on a few self-evident truths.

1) A minority of offenders are beyond any hope of reform (especially with the limited resources of our prisons) and should probably be kept under some form of physical restriction until age and infirmity have rendered them harmless. There is no reason why that restraint should not be humane and civilised.
2) Identifying those people is not an exact science.
3) Most people would err on the side of caution while that remains the case. That raises issues of justice and human rights.
4) Prison is an expensive and limited resource. Its punitive effect is obvious, but only lasts for a while. Its deterrent effect is debatable, certainly for second and subsequent offenders. Its one undisputed strength is that it incapacitates inmates from further offences against the public.

From this I draw a couple of conclusions. The first is that prison is too precious a resource to waste on drunks drug addicts and petty offenders, many of whom are mentally ill. The second is that if we can clear the mad and the sad out of prison we can ask the professionals to sharpen up their handling of the truly bad, and to work towards a less flawed system of assessing who might be suitable for release, and who should be kept under control, if necessary for ever.

At the moment the prison service has been reduced to warehousing inmates, its Victorian ideals overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers. There may be a better way, but I fear that there is no prospect of a politician with the courage to put it forward.

Oh, by the way: I have seen many thousands of offenders in my time on the bench, and I have seen fewer than a couple of dozen whom I thought were truly dangerous in the longer term.