...Or why the Blogosphere is better than newspapers - some of them are written by people with first-hand experience who know what they are doing.
There are too many people in prison who shouldn't be there. At the same time, serious offences go underpunished. Rather than pay attention to Newspapers who suggest that ANY attempt to cut the numbers in prison will result in a Rapist under every bush, and that the only answer is ever longer, ever less flexible prison sentences for "drug offences", "sexual offences" or "knife-crime" or whatever is the moral panic du jour, let's admit that we know nothing of the criminal justice system and see what those who have first-hand experience reckon. The magistrate is scathing about New Labour's attempts to shoehorn social pathology into the criminal justice system and dealing with the "populist crap" of the ASBO really ends up being just a means to put persistent offenders into prison for low-level crimes. Most of these people aren't bad, but are instead profoundly inadequate. They need help, not punishment. Treatment and care, rather than prison.
I don't know what the answer is to a dim and confused alcoholic who staggers around, swears at strangers, and calls the fire brigade for no reason. But I do know that the answer isn't an ASBO, because ASBOs only deter those with the mental capacity to be deterred. At this point, I would implore any MOJ staffer who has access to Ken Clarke's inbox and who happens to read this stuff - and I know there are a few of you - to tell him that what's going to happen here is typical of the reason why prisons are cluttered up with inadequates.The Magistrate doesn't know what to do with them, but knows they're cluttering up a criminal justice system which is not designed to cope with such profound problems. It's expensive on the tax-payer and cruel on the unfortunates caught up in a society in which they can't cope. Jim Brown, the man behind the On Probation blog, and he reckons it ain't prison, it's not criminal justice. It's (for want of a better description) the workhouse which could deal with profoundly disturbed people with chaotic lives.
He will be given an ASBO prohibiting various pain-in-the-arse activities. He will breach it within a few weeks. He will probably get a suspended 28 days or so. He will breach it again. He will go inside for, in reality, a few weeks. He will come out better fed and less smelly than he went in. Then he will breach again. JPs will get fed up with him and send him to the wigs for sentence. A Recorder with a busy list will glance at the guidelines and give him nine months. Guess what happens when he comes out? Go on; you know don't you? Breach, prison, and so on to the crack of doom. And the underlying offences, of drunkenness, Section 5 POA and the rest are all low-level fine-only jobs.
Clear him and his like out of the prisons, Mr. Clarke, and you will be well on the way to your 3000 reduction in the prisoner headcount. But you will have to find something else to do with them.
Over the years many such men have come my way professionally and undoubtedly they continue to pose society a problem. When I started out there were people called 'tramps', but the state at that time had a nationwide network of Reception and Resettlement Centres or 'spikes' that were open 24/7 and accepted men in any condition....I don't know whatthe answer is either but I feel more enlightened as to the problem by following these two blogs. If you actually care about society, rather than reading newspapers which simply pander to your prejudices, add them to your daily reading. I suspect this is an area where charity would be the best solution. Maybe there's something in this "Big society" after all. But who gives to a charity dealing with tramps? After all, who needs that when we have a welfare state...
...The last such facility closed only around 1989, all victims of the growth in political correctness that labelled such places as demeaning and dehumanising, but in the process handily avoided the knotty question of how such people were to be dealt with in the brave new politically-correct world. The sad fact is that there was never adequate replacement provision in either quantity or scope. Some might be tempted to ask if they worked? My answer would be that even if they didn't, wasn't it a rather more humane way to try and deal with such people than the situation we have today? We simply don't have the right facilities anymore and no agency claims any responsibility.