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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Told You So (no 27 of a series)

Prison overcrowding is all over the papers at the moment, and the BBC has just announced that the headline figure has topped 81,000. The Government has finally and irrevocably run out of excuses. Prison governors are in open revolt for the first time in their history, having been ordered to supervise police and court-cell detainees in accommodation that is designed to hold prisoners for a few hours, and lacks even the most basic amenities. This leaves the governors, in their opinion, in danger of breaching their professional duties, so they have had enough.
Every corner has been cut, every avenue explored, and now Charlie Falconer is going to have to stand up and announce the early release of possibly 2000 prisoners. The tabloids and the Conservatives will make hay with this - today's headlines are full of
burglars, drug dealers and fraudsters
(Mail) which makes better copy than drunk drivers alcoholics and shoplifters I suppose. David Davis is talking about danger to the public, which is frankly nonsense. If someone is going to re-offend when he gets out what difference will it make whether he is released today or in two weeks' time?
The government's problems are entirely self-inflicted and should have been foreseen years ago. Act after Act has increased the number and length of prison sentences (none more so than the new Indeterminate sentences that are increasing at an alarming rate) and new prison capacity will not be on stream for years yet. If the figures had simply been wrong, the government might be at least partly excused but the whole scenario has been driven by the Blair government's obsession with pandering to the tabloid mob, and their constant refrain that only prison is a punishment and anything else is a let-off. At the same time no serious effort has been made to do anything about finding an alternative to prison for the mentally ill and the hopelessly addicted.
I shall probably wince at the press and political reaction to Charlie's announcement, because it is bound to be tendentious and unfair and will coarsen the debate yet further, but of one thing I shall be sure - he and his government deserve every bit of it.