Short sentences

This research, reported in the SMH confirms what I’ve said before about the uselessness of short prison sentences

The lead researcher, Dr Eileen Baldry, of the school of social work at the University of NSW, said jailing people for less than six months was counterproductive. Their situation months after release was worse than before they went to jail.

I’ve been meaning to make a general comment about the ‘law and order’ debate. The left has clearly lost the debate as it’s been posed for a long time, and deservedly so. To oversimplify, the standard debate sets a kneejerk ‘lock ’em up’ position (right) against a kneejerk ‘let ’em go’ response (left).

While neither is at all satisfactory, locking ’em up at least achieves incapacitation (that is, those behind bars are not breaking into houses). The shift of the more sensible left to ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ is a step forward, but doesn’t resolve the problem of what a sensible ‘tough on crime’ policy might actually mean (there are also plenty of problems with the various causes of crime such as unemployment, but more on that another time). In my view, it means being willing to use lengthy prison sentences to incapacitate habitual and career criminals, but not giving people schooling in crime with a string of short sentences. This means some very hard thinking about what to do about those who commit crimes but are not yet hardened crims.