Thursday, 10 February 2011

Little England

The media has been alive with opinion today about giving prisoners the vote.

Instinctively, I feel that prisoners should have the vote but until today I didn’t know what principals informing that feeling might have been. I spent much of this morning listening to radio and TV debates and was struck at how uninformed much of the reaction was.

'It's disgusting that Rose West be able to vote!' (She won't.) 'How can the Yorkshire Ripper be trusted to make laws?' (He won't.) What about the hundreds of people who were sent down for not having television license? Do they fall into the same category as Ian Huntley? What about the huge numbers of people who are imprisoned for under a year for minor, non-violent crimes? What about therapists who enjoy a spliff now and again, or don’t declare all their clients to HMRC – if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!

 “Never mind prisoner rights, what about victims rights?” is a common refrain and whilst some of the sentences that some prisoners get can be surprisingly short, the impulse for this argument doesn't seem to have it's genesis in social justice. If I attack you then indeed I forfeit my right to liberty and free association, that’s part of the social contract. But I pay my debt to society, not to my victim. Society condemns certain acts and demands certain penalties. The ‘victims rights’ argument seems to want to replace our current legislation with systems of vendetta and feud, or Lex talionis that is, laws based on retribution, but I guarantee that the majority of people advocating this route would be horrified at the concept of living under Sharia.


It’s a given that poor people have more to do with the criminal justice system than do the rich and it’s also a given that societal debate makes and changed laws. That’s why people were imprisoned for not having a TV licence in the first place (Conservative rhetoric hated single mothers) and why that law changed, why we hanged children for stealing food and then stopped that barbarity.


Many talk radio programmes today debated this issue and I was struck by the almost total lack of ability or desire to hear any argument other than hang ‘em and flog ‘em and Sod Off Europe. In fact, the European Union came into being after WW2 urgently recognising the wisdom of that old saw, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ The European Court of Justice was part of this union, created to protect ordinary people from tyrannical governments and legislatures. Giving prisoners the vote, as all but we and the least developed of European countries already do, is a way of making sure that if any European government imprisons their opponents their opponents can still vote them out. Winston Churchill was an enthusiastic advocate for both the Union and the Court.


It’s a depressing fact that those people most likely to be imprisoned are also most likely to support a return to the death penalty. What is this about? How does it relate to Rogers’ understanding of the phenomenological field?

All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre.
The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is "reality" for the individual.
The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.
As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed - an organised, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the "I" or the "me", together with values attached to these concepts.

The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.

And so on.  


There’s a particular kind of response from voters that politicians play to: “I’m not that cruel, I’m not that clever.” People on the Left are parodied as going into too much detail for too long ("Who cares about your stupid facts and figures, they bore and confuse me,")  people on the Right as callous thugs (US research is clear that Republicans give more financially and in time to charity than do Democrats. No such research exists in the UK.)  and voters find their place on that spectrum. Literacy is below the level expected of an eleven year old for one third of our adult population and poor academic achievement disproportionately affects people on low income. Cui Bono?


We had a learning moment earlier this year, when those people whose privileged education helps them bring together history, social policy, politics, economics and philosophy could have guided the nation, comfortably within their own political ideologies, to an informed decision about this European Court judgement. Instead, the Prime Minister summed up all their bombastic rhetoric and played to the gallery:

‘Being forced to give prisoners the vote makes me sick.’

David Cameron, 
November 2010

  “The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.”

                                                                                                                              Winston Churchill, July 1910

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Law Is The Law Unless You're Poor.

Julie Baker and Stewart Evans, Directors of the Care Sector Trust, defrauded their company of £54,000 and this week received a 9 months sentence, suspended for 2 years, and must complete 300 hours of community service.

They received £337,000 public funding for supplying courses that would support homeless people and ex-offenders back into work, ordered staff to forge signatures and claimed funding for courses that never occurred.

Karen Clancy worked on and off as a cleaner cash in hand while on benefits. The total of her benefits, including housing and council tax benefit, child benefit and income support over some years came to £37,000. She went to prison for 14 months.
Judge Richard Bray said he could not overlook "such calculated fraud."

"I appreciate your home circumstances but it is no good blaming the judge. You brought this upon your own children."
Actually, it was Judge Richard Bray who deprived children of their only parent, put them into care and made them and their mother homeless.

Feelings of shame, shock, humiliation and loss of status might be common to both Karen Clancy and Julie Baker but I wonder if the intensity of those feelings might be greater for Ms Clancy? As well as being in prison, as well as worrying about her children and what's happening to her furniture, photo albums and cutlery when her house is cleared, when she comes out of prison she will also have to replay £37,000 on a weekly gross income of around £160. Returning to work  after her sentence will be very difficult indeed. What are the chances, do you think, of her defrauding once more? If she does won't this just prove how basically untrustworthy she is, a perpetual offender?

I’m genuinely interested to see how Julie Baker, Stuart Evans and those MP’s who’ve also been imprisoned for fraud get on in future. The DWP book ‘Barriers to employment for offenders and ex-offenders’ referenced above notes that ‘morality’ is one of the major concerns for prospective employers but I’m not sure this is totally accurate.

Jeffrey Archer, a millionaire who was imprisoned for fraud was made a Peer and is doing charity auctions. Jonathon Aitkin, another millionaire who was imprisoned for perjury still owes money to creditors and heads a Government task force on prison reform.

One of the major determinants of prospects after coming out of prison seems to be personal income. And another seems to be personal contacts. All of which reinforces the research that suggests that the poor are perceived to be more guilty than the rich simply by virtue of being poor.