As regular readers will know, I've been off work for some time and one of the ways in which I pass the time when m'Julie is a work is with the television. I don't purely watch DVDs, but have kept up to date with (fairly) current affairs by watching the BBC News channel.
Generally, I find their coverage very good and better than most of the other available sources, although I am at a loss at the present time about the Ross and Brand affair. Whilst I agree that what they did was unacceptable, I fail to see, with everything else that is going on in the world, why they are receiving so much coverage on the news programmes, being the lead story on most.
However, that is not why I think that I am becoming 'Disgusted' (20 months ago, I could have been Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, but now I'll have to settle for Paddock Wood).
In the UK there is a man called Jack Straw, who is currently the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice. Three days ago he gave a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, covering Punishment and Reform which received lots of publicity as it was allegedly him complaining about 'cushy prisons'.
In a nutshell he seems to be saying that although we shouldn't return to the old days where prisons were dingy revolting places with prisoners forced to slop out, it should not be forgotten that prisons are the severest form of punishment available to the British justice system, the removal of the offenders liberty being the punishment, with an emphasis being on rehabilitation and education of offenders as well as assistance in dealing with drug problems. He also states that the victims of crime should not be forgotten, which appears to be happening as far as penal reformers are concerned.
At the time that this speech was being publicised, there was also a lot in the media about the fact that in many prisons the prisoners have access to satellite television and games consoles in their cells. Whether this is true or not, I cannot say as these were tabloid headlines, and I think we all know how reliable tabloid journalists are/n't. However, Mr Straw did talk of an unacceptable Halloween Party taking place in a prison.
So, putting my 'D of PW' head on, where do I stand? I think that our biggest problem with the justice system in this country is sentencing. Last week, a man was convicted of murdering his 16-month old daughter. She was malnourished and had been badly abused before he finally put her over his knee and snapped her spine in two. His sentence was life imprisonment and he was told that he must serve at least 22 years. WRONG! I firmly believe that if a person is sentenced to life imprisonment, then they should serve at least life imprisonment. This man should, as we no longer hang murderers, remain in prison until he dies, not be walking the streets again when he is 47 years of age.
In exactly the same way, I firmly believe that if a person is sentenced to 3 months or 10 years, they should serve 3 months or 10 years, no parole, no time off for good behaviour. If you don't want to do the time, don't do the crime.
In many American states, they operate a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. Anyone who commits offences that would result in their being jailed on three separate occasions automatically receives a life sentence on that third occasion, which is something that I would like to see operate in this country.
I know that there will be certain penal reformers that will feel this is wrong and that I must be a terrible person, but I haven't finished there.
Prisoners must be identifiable as such and should therefore wear a uniform that clearly identifies them, even those serving life whom I believe are currently allowed to wear their own clothes. There is a prison in the US where the local Sheriff insists that his prisoners wear everything, tops, bottoms, underwear, in pink. Degrading, perhaps, but they can be easily identified as prisoners.
I also believe that those serving non-custodial sentences should be made to wear a uniform that identifies them when they are litter-picking or scrubbing graffiti, or whatever their punishment is. If they don't like it, the simple answer is don't commit the offence that gets you put in that situation.
Once serving a sentence, prisoners must abide by the rules. In the press there is much made of the fact that illegal mobile phone use is rife in prisons. The simple answer is that there is technology available that will jam all mobile phone signals in a limited area. This should be installed in prisons. Any prisoners who still attempt to use mobile telephones and are caught automatically have one year added to their sentence for each offence, even if their original sentence was only three months. If this doesn't discourage the practice, I would be very surprised.
Drugs are also apparently a major problem in all prisons and Mr Straw states that as many as 13% of new inmates enter prison with a drug problem. In this situation, all those with a problem must be given rehabilitation to wean them off the drugs. However, once they are weaned off the drugs all prisoners must be subject to weekly drug tests. If they fail they are punished, the punishment would be dependent upon the type of drug for which they have tested positive. Sentences will be the same as for possession of that class of drug, because to test positive the prisoner must have been in possession of the drug. Testing positive for a Class A drug will result in 7 years being added to the prisoner’s sentence for each offence, Class B will result in 5 years being added to the prisoner’s sentence for each offence and Class C will result in 2 years being added to the prisoner’s sentence for each offence.
As for conditions within prisons, I strongly agree that we must not return to the days of slopping out, but it must be remembered that prison is a punishment. At present, many prisoners live in conditions better than British soldiers serving on operational tours. Whilst there is the argument that the soldiers have volunteered to serve, so they cannot complain, I would argue that the prisoners have volunteered to be imprisoned by committing the offence, so also have no cause for complaint.
Satellite television, gone, games consoles, gone, communal television rooms with limited hours and a communal games room, yes, perhaps even a small gym so that prisoners can keep themselves fit, but definitely a 'no frills' approach. Prisoners would also be expected to work, however, at present I believe that they earn a few pence for any work that they do. I believe that this practice should stop. Any profit made from their work should be ploughed back into the prison. If the prisoners want 'pocket money', this would be provided by their families, no more than £10.00 per week, for them to buy what they need.
There was also a report recently of one prison where the prisoners were unhappy about the conditions and the authorities were concerned that there may be an outbreak of violence among the prisoners. To this I have a simple solution. There is a radio DJ in this country who, as one of his features, does a quiz whilst wearing an electronic dog collar on his arm. Every time he gets a question wrong, he gets zapped, the force increasing each time.
So why not make all prisoners wear something similar, although impossible to remove. If they wish to take part in disorder, then they get zapped. If they escape, then there would be an area around the perimeter of the prison that if they step outside they get zapped. It may seem harsh, but no more so than the Tasers issued to most UK Police forces.
The only concern may be that there would be some prison officers who would inappropriately use these devices, so for that reason there would have to be very senior authorisation, although still within the penal establishment, perhaps the Governor, who would give this authorisation, with very severe penalties, from dismissal to imprisonment, for inappropriate use.
The other thing that has been in the news very recently is that the Home Office has decided to make it more difficult for extremists to enter the UK, particularly those that intend to preach hatred.
The UK is a multi-cultural country, which I believe must always be the case. However, I also believe that although we are a multi-cultural country, it is essential that those that have entered the country from abroad must respect the laws and traditions of this country, in exactly the same way as I or m'Julie would be expected to do in certain countries, rather than demanding, in some cases, that the law be altered to fit in with their beliefs or that their form of law be allowed to run alongside British Law be it Halakha, Sharia or any other form of law. I firmly believe that in Britain, we should be subject to and abide by purely to British Law. If there is anyone that wishes to be subject to other forms of law, they should move to a country where that law is practised.
A good example is the couple that were recently convicted in Dubai. The lawyers argue that the Judge believed that they were innocent of the charge of having sexual intercourse in public, but were guilty of kissing in public.
If they were in this country, kissing in public is not an offence, but in Dubai, which operates Sharia Law, it is. I find it extremely difficult to believe that these people were not briefed prior to commencing work in Dubai, so they have no grounds to complain. Ignorance is no excuse in any case. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. They should also remember that under Sharia Law they could have been subject to corporal punishment, so they got off lightly.
However, returning to my original point about it being more difficult for extremist preachers of hatred to enter the country. I believe that freedom of speech is important. But, like most of Europe, there are certain things which go beyond the 'Freedom of Speech' umbrella. Holocaust Denial is illegal in most European countries. In this country, it is an offence to incite racial hatred. However, we still see it happen and no-one act on it. There are what can only be described as neo-Nazi speakers in this country who advocate a 'white only' Britain. Unfortunately, at present, I believe that not enough is being done to curb these extremists. We have also seen Islamic extremists preaching in this country, and although more has been done to curb these people, more could still be done.
The new law that is to be introduced will name and shame these people, their names will be shared with other countries, and they will be denied entry to this country. However, that does not deal with the home-grown extremists who are already here. Perhaps the Government should act more forcibly on those that preach hatred against a person because their skin colour is different or because they have a different religion and those that issue death threats to a Muslim woman who has painted a self-portrait wearing a hijab and cradling a piglet.
The last thing to have 'got me going' is illegal immigration.
In the UK, we have a large immigrant population, almost all of whom entered the country legally and with permission. The majority are working to earn their keep and are useful members of society.
However, I recently watched a programme about the UK Border Agency. I was amazed to find out first of all the number of people that attempt to enter the UK illegally as well as the number that actually succeed. I was also amazed to find out that even if an illegal immigrant is discovered, if he or she has no passport, they cannot be deported. So what seems to be happening was demonstrated in the programme. In this instance it was a Nigerian who had entered the country legally on a tourist visa. That visa had expired 2 years prior to his arrest by the Border Agency. He informed them that his passport had been sent back to Nigeria. Therefore, until new travel documents could be obtained for this man from the Nigerian High Commission, he has to be allowed to remain in this country. Because there are limited custodial places for illegal immigrants, and only those that are considered a risk are locked up, he was released and told that he must report on a weekly basis to the Border Agency. He reported once and was not seen again. There's a surprise.
The simple solution would be that all immigrants are placed on ships within UK waters, perhaps old cruise ships, that are due to be broken up, but somewhere where they could have suitable accommodation. Each person would receive a 24-hour ration pack daily (If they're good enough for British troops on operation they must be good enough for people who have illegally entered the UK). The advantage is this. On occasion, there have been cases of immigrants setting fire to their detention centres. If they are on a ship that is two miles out, starting a fire is not a good idea as they are unlikely to survive. Also, if they still try it, all fire lighting equipment is taken away, as the rations can be eaten hot or cold.
It would be interesting to see how quickly these people sort out their travel documents and are asking to return to their country of origin in these circumstances. And when they are deported, the bill is then sent to the appropriate High Commission/Embassy, as why should the British tax payer meet the bill.
The same would apply to asylum seekers. Whilst there are many genuine cases, there are also many that seek asylum to avoid deportation, again seen on the programme, as the Nigerian, once caught and told that he would be sent back to Nigeria when he had travel documents, immediately suggested that he may claim asylum as he feared for his life in Nigeria because of a family feud.
Even those that enter the country legally as immigrants would have to meet certain criteria. No job/means of supporting themselves, no entry. I would also not allow them to claim benefits for at least five years post entry. If they lose/resign from their job prior to that 5 years and are unable to support themselves, they must return to their country of origin and reapply.
So there it is, my 'manifesto'. Am I turning into Disgusted of Paddock Wood, am I becoming an extremist or do I just have way too much time on my hands?