Friday, 18 October 2013


As I've said many times before, I do not fit into a convenient box politically. Partly because I actually understand politics. I'm not saying you don't, but most don't. Most people think the definition of politics is the choice of two or more political parties in the modern Western system.

Being keen on world history I am rather more aware that there are many more options than that. Politics simply means "how to run things", and things have been run all sorts of ways since humans began. Some of them I most definitely wouldn't want to be part of, unless I was in the ruling elite of course, because everyone else was brutally oppressed.

We tend to assume that the best way to run things is modern Western democracy, but it ain't necessarily so. If you have a beneficent dictator, you could actually be better off. Maybe. It's a gamble like any other. At the end of the day, when you consider your "lot" it's not who is in charge, or which system that matters, it's how it affects you.

Most importantly, it isn't necessary to have political ideals in a box. You can pick and choose them, and I do. So, while I am obviously on the left of centre, just how far to the left I go depends on the issue, and on one issue, I have been accused of being on the right. This issue is commonly known as "law and order", but I see it another way.

One thing is for sure, if we are to live together in groups, there have to be rules. Small groups tend to have less/simpler rules. Large groups have complex legal systems. But it doesn't really matter, it all boils down to what do we do when somebody steps out of line. We tell them they broke the rules, they behaved badly. If one among us behaves badly, what do we do?

Humans are not always logical. Quite often our first instinct is to punish the bad person. Revenge. What does this actually achieve? Not much. In some instances it may, possibly, put them off from doing it again. "40 lashes! That'll make you think twice!". Maybe.

But what if the reason the person was bad is that there's something flawed inside them? Some neurological quirk, maybe from birth, maybe from chemicals (natural or otherwise), maybe from life's heavy load. Whatever the cause, what if they can't be "good"?

These days we are increasingly aware of this. There are psychological evaluations when a crime is committed, and in some circumstances instead of going to jail, the person receives treatment. Sometimes it's successful. But there are a lot of if and maybes here, and despite all our latest knowledge on the workings of the human mind, we still regularly do something really, really stupid.

We convict a person for a crime, imprison him for a set length of time, and then set him free.

Not only that, much of the time not only does he get no remedial treatment, quite often his experience in prison leaves him more mentally scarred than before.

The we let him loose in society, with a record, financial, and probably relationship issues, on top of his emotional state, and expect him to just become a law-abiding, functional, useful member of society.

Needless to say, this doesn't work very well.

When you get into this discussion with people you often hear some very peculiar, and rather extreme ideas. There are those who accuse you of being a bleeding heart if you show any sympathy whatsoever towards the person who broke the law. There are those who call you a fascist if you don't. Between those afraid of the nanny state, and those afraid of the police state, all rationality goes right out the window in fact, and I've found this to be one of the most difficult political issues to discuss without tempers flaring.

But we need to be calm and rational about this, because it needs to be fixed.

Right now, just using the United States as an example (because I have the data) there are roughly 2 1/2 million incarcerated people. Almost 1% of the population.

Should they all be there? Do they all NEED to be imprisoned? Lots of questions there. It all comes down to why a person is imprisoned. Is he a danger to the public, for example? Is he at risk of recidivism if released? Good questions.

But these cannot be the reason for his imprisonment. No, because at the same time there are 4 1/2 million more convicted persons who are NOT imprisoned, but on parole etc. Are these deemed safe? Really?

Define safe. There are 3/4 million Americans on the sex offenders register alone. Are they all in jail? No. And this figure doesn't mean there are only 3/4 million dangerous people in the US, it just means 3/4 million of them have been identified. The list of general violent people would be many times that, but nobody keeps a violent people register.
My guess is that the red zone is somewhat smaller than either of the two contributory groups. I could be wrong, but I'm probably not.

In other places the picture will be different, for a variety of reasons, and not least because prisons are not so profitable, but anywhere you go there are people who don't need to be imprisoned, but are, and people who should be, but aren't.

So we talk about justice. What is justice? It's a bit vague most of the time. In fact much of the time it comes back to revenge. 3 years inside as punishment. What purpose does this serve? Does it reduce the chances of recidivism? Opinions vary, and of course it depends on what treatment (use that word any way you like) he receives inside.

I think, before we consider how fair any of this is we should consider human rights. We are all humans. We all have the same rights. In theory anyway. And in our free (ish), modern, Western style democracies we hold individual human rights very dearly. But we never seem to get the balance right.

For a long time the accused man, and even the convicted man, has had his own set of rights. As he should. We lose our humanity otherwise. I am not arguing against that, and in fact I would have prisoners treated better. It benefits nobody to treat them badly.

I am here to argue for the rights of the potential victims. What I am seeing is the rights of the one frequently being given precedence over the rights of the many. There are far too many people free on the street who should not be there. They are not suited to freedom. For whatever reason, they cannot control themselves.

If people could control themselves we'd have no need of legal systems, "justice" systems, or jails. And the sooner we use our jails logically - to keep dangerous people away from the rest of us, the better for everyone.

So why is this not being done, if it's so logical?

Politics. And the lack of logic in politics. Decisions being made for all the wrong reasons. Ideas being labelled "left" or "right" and treated as part of a package deal. Accusations being made as soon as any sensible idea is suggested, that suggest you're not following the correct "side".


The absurd, and impossible idea that the rights of every person can be upheld at all times.

Because, the simple and obvious view is that the rights of innocent people to walk down a street without fear of being attacked by a person known to be dangerous, but released from prison, trumps ANY rights that person has of "second chance" or indeed freedom.

Freedom is relative anyway, but how free am I if I can't go about my day without fear, because there has been a warning of a sex offender living in my neighbourhood? Why is he? Why was he released if the public needs to be alerted to him?

I repeat, it's not a justice issue, it's a human rights issue, and the rights of the many MUST be greater than the rights of one. And if that isn't a left-wing idea, I'm not sure what is.

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