This penetrating insight into jurisprudence comes to you courtesy of Donna Jones, inmate in a psychiatric hospital…
Just kidding. Miss Jones is actually a crime commissioner who, as far as I know, doesn’t suffer from any mental disorders. It’s just that our zeitgeist gone mad can speak even through sane people.
Egged on by this metaphysical stimulus, Miss Jones spoke out against imprisoning recidivist shoplifters with drug addiction. Instead, the robbed retailers should pay for their robbers’ rehabilitation.
That means victims must be punished twice for the same crime: first by being ripped off and then by having to foot rehab bills for the thieves. Miss Jones thus enunciates an idea that has escaped legal minds for 4,000 years, ever since Hammurabi laid down his Code.
Her thinking deserves a longish quotation, for all its stylistic ineptitude:
“Often for shoplifting, even if you are a prolific offender with 200 shoplifting offences, the chances are you might get six months and, therefore, you might do 12 weeks.
“Then you’re out and actually is that really going to break your addiction, or you’re more likely to take drugs when you’re in prison anyway, and then come out and just be carrying on the way that you were before?
“Are we just incarcerating people? Are we actually stopping them from reoffending?”
This idiocy wouldn’t be worth a comment if it didn’t reflect the overall collapse of modern morality and the concomitant debauchment of the law. Supposing you are immune to such afflictions, what would be your first response to that nonsense?
I can tell you what mine would be. First, a repeat offender with 200 convictions to his name should be sentenced not to six months but to life in prison, ideally without parole. Second, if drugs are readily available in prisons (which they are), then something is fundamentally wrong with our penitentiary system.
Third and most important, rehabilitating inmates to break their addiction to drugs or, for that matter, to crime isn’t what prisons are for. Rehabilitation is a secondary purpose of incarceration, not to say a tertiary one.
Its primary purpose is to serve justice by meting out punishment commensurate with the crime. Each time this happens, society is reassured that its safety is protected by just law.
If the criminal emerges from prison a new man, so much the better. But even if he doesn’t, at least we know he was kept off the streets for a long time. Those who would have otherwise fallen victim to his shenanigans could have heaved a sigh of relief.
Corrupting the meaning of punishment is only the top layer of the problem. Lurking underneath is a much graver issue, that of the moral collapse I mentioned earlier. For the implication of Miss Jones’s legal breakthrough is that crimes against property are innocent antics – unlike, say, patting a strange woman’s rump on a bus.
Miss Jones merely acts as the mouthpiece of the zeitgeist, which is consistently blowing leftwards. For downgrading the importance of personal property is tantamount to denying the importance of personal freedom.
John Locke, whose thought midwifed the modern state, believed that the state as such was brought into existence merely to protect private property. He more or less identified the “pursuit of estate” (which his American disciples translated into “the pursuit of happiness”) as the cornerstone of liberty.
Locke isn’t necessarily my favourite thinker on such subjects. But there’s no doubt that the more insecure a person’s property, the more insecure his freedom. For any state that sees private property as an incidental is bound to deny other liberties as well.
Nothing illustrates this general observation more vividly than the lackadaisical treatment private property receives at the hands of the modern British state. Not only shoplifting but even burglary routinely go not only unpunished but unprosecuted.
A friend of mine, who has appeared as expert witness at numerous trials, has calculated that an average burglary is punished with a mere couple of weeks in prison. Someone who kisses a woman without permission will look at a stiffer sentence.
This reminds me of the Bolshevik concept of ‘socially close’ criminals, who were often treated with lenience. As the celebrated Soviet pedagogue Makarenko explained (I’m quoting from memory), “No working class criminal is so bad that he can’t be corrected. It’s only the children of aristocrats, priests and intellectuals who are incorrigible.”
The British state too must sense that thieves are in the same business the state is, redistribution of wealth. Of course, if someone tries to redistribute the state’s wealth, by cheating on taxes, he’ll have not just the book but the whole library thrown at him. But a man stealing from a private person or his shop, is essentially doing the same thing extortionate taxation does. So he only deserves a slap on the wrist, if that.
Miss Jones must have breathed in deeply and smelled that legal concept wafting in the wind. Hence her insight that a shop owner must be robbed twice, first by the criminal, then by the state. After all, they are both pulling in the same direction.
Dickens didn’t even realise he wasn’t just commenting but also prophesising when he made his Mr Bumble say that “the law is a ass”. Yet that phrase was as prophetic as it was ungrammatical.
P.S. Speaking of prophesies, St James anticipated our current agricultural problems when he wrote: “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.”