Is Prison too Soft? (2011), by Sean Gabb

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Sean Gabb on LBC with Andrew Pierce of The Daily Mail, on Tuesday the 2nd August 2011. They discussed whether criminals are being sent to prison for long enough.

Sean says yes and no for these reasons:

  1. Many people are being sent to prison, or threatened with prison for crimes that should not exist and that often did not exist until recently. For example, there should be no laws against the sale and possession of recreational drugs where only adults are concerned. It is wrong to make a crime of doing with yourself as you please. Again, it was scandalous that Nick Griffin of the BNP risked seven years in prison for uttering words about Islam that would once have gone utterly unremarked.
  2. At the same time, many people who are convicted of serious crimes are often let out of prison after derisory sentences, or even before these sentences have been fully served. in prison, they are given comforts or even luxuries that people outside often struggle to buy.

A libertarian response to the perceived crisis of criminal justice is to stop punishing people for non-crimes, and to make sure that those who do commit crimes are not allowed to escape after little more than a slap on the wrist. This may not mean longer prison sentences or stricter conditions in prison. It may mean moving the whole system away from punishment and deterrence, and toward some system of restitution to victims. Thieves should be made to restore what they have stolen, or its value. Violent criminals should be made to compensate their victims in the same manner as in the civil courts. Those who cannot afford to pay damages should be set to forced labour until they have earned enough.

There are obvious problems with a system based on restitution. What about rich criminals, who enjoy hurting people and are willing to pay for their tastes? What about the companies running the forced labour gangs? They would become another corrupt special interest in a country already tending towards a plutocratic police state. But these are problems to be discussed and settled. They do not compare with the existing fact that our criminal justice system does not work, and cannot be made to work.