Monday, 6 December 2010

Crime and punishment

David Cameron with Brooke Kinsella, knife crime campaigner
Right at the end of When I Was Joe, Ty watches a television programme about knife crime. He sees a politician 'a posh one. The one my mum likes - he talks a lot of sense, she says.' A man with a 'smooth, certain face' who says that everyone who carries a knife should be locked up.
This makes Ty laugh out loud, as he imagines the hundreds and hundreds of prisons that would be needed. It was pretty much the response I had, when I heard David Cameron -  yes, it was he -  make this particular suggestion, which turned into an election pledge.
Anyway, now David Cameron is Prime Minister, thanks in part to people like Ty's mum (although thanks even more to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg) and Ken Clarke is his  Justice Secretary. And Ken Clarke has just been on the BBC news explaining that prison doesn't work, and it creates repeat offenders, and there needs to be other ways of punishing offenders.  The BBC showed him debating the matter with prisoners, who thoroughly agreed with him. His green paper on sentencing is due to be published tomorrow.
In the last few years since I wrote When I Was Joe  I've watched different policies used to try and counter knife crime in London. My daughter has come home from school telling me about films and speakers -  the mother of a murdered boy, a police officer. All of the anti-knife education they have had has been underpinned by a strong message that carrying a knife is enough to put you in jail. Now it seems that message is far from the truth.
I'm not a supporter of the current government, but I agree with most of what Ken Clarke has to say about prisons. I believe prison sentences should address future offending, and try and help offenders reflect on their actions and prepare for a better life, an expensive over-crowded system isn't going to make this happen.  Attempts to help addicted and mentally ill offenders make perfect sense.
But I wonder how I'd feel if a child of mine had been killed by a stupid boy armed with a knife? If I was part of the Kinsella family, whose son Ben was murdered by thugs for nothing, and who have campigned for knife  attacks to be treated as seriously as gun crimes. I wonder if this new policy -  coupled with savage cuts to policing - will make us feel safer? And why didn't the BBC suggest that Ken Clarke put his ideas to victims and their families?
I'm like Ty, I don't have any answers. Just a feeling of cynical confusion. And quite a lot of fear.
Update: Had Ken Clarke been filmed with the families of victims of crime, this is what he might have been told

1 comment:

  1. With a young boy fast approaching teenage years and an, already, cynical daughter almost through hers, I feel your fear. Son asked us the other day, why people carry knives? 'Because everyone does,'says daughter - so casual, so terrifying.