It’s best to establish the premise first. So here it is: I regard both early release from prison and plea bargaining as a travesty of justice.
That’s why I welcome the government’s announcement that rapists will now have to serve out their whole sentence without any possibility of early release. However, as I begin to applaud, my palms stop in mid-air. Acting as a brake is one insistent question: Why just rapists?
Does this mean that a thug who cripples a woman for life with a savage beating will get out after serving half his sentence, while a brute who rapes her without leaving a scratch is to do the whole stretch?
This question prevents me from applauding Sunak’s idea, but many Tories aren’t bothered. At last, they rejoice, this is a truly conservative measure. ‘Real Rishi” is finally coming out of his cocoon.
In fact, Rishi-washy is playing both ends against the middle. On the one hand, he comes across as an upholder of law and order. On the other hand, he implicitly confirms that rape is a crime like no other. So it is, according to woke mythology, which shapes the whole modern ethos.
A monster who breaks every bone in a woman’s body only commits a crime against that woman, an individual. However, a man who rapes a woman ‘objectivises’ her, thereby transgressing against feminist diktats – and against the state that feels called upon to indulge every radical woke fad.
Women are brainwashed to believe – or at least to declare – that rape is the worst thing that can happen to them. Worse than losing an eye or a limb, worse than becoming paraplegic, worse than death.
That said, I don’t know a single woman untouched by the ague of feminist zealotry who would prefer, say, being blinded to being raped.
But politicians, whatever their party affiliation, don’t want to appeal to the women I know. They don’t even want to appeal to a majority of women. All they want is to signal woke virtue, hoping to spare themselves from an avalanche of bad press in the runup to the next election.
Earlier, Mr Sunak announced he would change the law to ensure that all sexually motivated murderers receive whole life sentences (life without parole, to my American readers). What about fiscally motivated murderers? Will they be allowed a tariff to their mandatory life sentence? If so – and it is often so – I fail to see any logic to that, and even less morality.
Then again, crime passionnel may well be murderous. Am I to understand that a man who kills his wife out of jealousy will never see the outside of prison, whereas a robber who kills a whole family for their jewellery may be out in a decade or two? Verily I say unto you, our society is even more obsessed with sex than I thought.
I refuse to accept the logic behind any early release, for any crime. Let’s say that a duly instituted legal authority decides that a punishment of 10 years in prison is commensurate with the misdeed committed. If it isn’t, then the sentence is a travesty of justice. But if it is, then a travesty of justice occurs if the prisoner is released after, say, five years.
Why should he be? One stock answer is that our prisons are overcrowded, we can’t afford more prisons, and the upkeep of a prisoner is expensive. However, such arguments ab pecunia run headlong into the next question: what is the state for?
The state has many functions, but most of them are strictly contingent and therefore debatable. The state has only one core, absolute, non-negotiable raison d’être: keeping the people safe from external enemies and internal criminals.
Thus, if the question of how much we can afford to spend on justice and defence arises, only one answer goes to the very essence of statehood: as much as it takes.
Another stock excuse for early release has to do with rehabilitation through remorse. Apparently, having served half his sentence, a typical inmate repents his misdeeds so deeply that he can enter outside life as a new man. I suppose such metamorphoses can happen, although my friend, who used to be a prison doctor, assures me they are rare.
In any event, how is anyone to decide that a prisoner has been sufficiently rehabilitated? By looking into his soul? Hearing what he has to say for himself? I can’t be the only one to see how easily mistakes can be made.
No wonder our recidivism rate is so high, with over 40 per cent of adult inmates released from custody reoffending within 18 months, and these are just those who are caught.
Some of the same excuses as those for early release, such as the cost and overcrowding of prisons, are also used for plea bargaining. That is even more immoral.
Let’s say the defendant charged with murder is as guilty as Cain. But preparing an airtight case may take a lot of time, effort and money, something the prosecutors may not feel like expending, not with government watchdogs breathing down their necks.
This leads to an offer of knocking the charge down to, say, GBH (10 years, out in five), with the defendant pleading guilty. Or else he is welcome to take his chances in court, risking a life sentence.
In rarer cases, plea bargaining may lead to an innocent man going to prison. The prosecution scares him with the prospect of a stiff sentence, encouraging him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, thereby clearing the case off their backlog.
This results in a gross miscarriage of justice, but allowing a criminal to serve just half his sentence is almost as bad – justice not so much served as abused. But all such things, emphatically including Mr Sunak’s announcement, aren’t about justice. They are about politics.
The PM-in-waiting, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, got his knighthood for the sterling job he did as director of public prosecutions. Except that the job was far from sterling.
Sir Keir never saw a criminal who couldn’t be either exonerated or at least rehabilitated after a slap on the wrist. He was one of the worst men in that job ever, which the Tories feel gives them an opening. Screaming off the rooftops that Labour is soft on crime may be an election-winning strategy, against all odds.
Even better, the claim will be justified. The trouble is that the Tories’ record in that department is only marginally better, if at all. So it’s just a matter of who shouts first and louder. Isn’t politics grand?