Is prison the answer? Time for a more creative justice system?

“Picture by picture, the criminals are being identified and arrested”

So said David Cameron today of the rioters and looters. They will be arrested and charged and then jailed? Alan Sugar is leading a campaign from his twitter account to name, shame and identify all those involved. Fair enough. The reasons why this has happened are complex, and we need a justice system, people need to be punished. But is the answer simply to send people to prison? Does a prison sentence prevent someone from re-offending?

A study by the British Ministry of Justice seemed to suggest that short sentences aren’t particularly effective in reducing re-offending rates. Admittedly the difference in this study between community sevice and jail terms isn’t that significant, but surely it is a start.

Britain and Ireland’s jails are bursting at the seams. Is it time to rethink how we punish criminals? It seems to me especially with the current riots that throwing rioters in jail although retributive isn’t going to be effective in reforming their characters. I guess only God can ultimately do that. Do we need more of a restorative justice system? With the rioters and looters should they be put to work in repairing what they have destroyed, or put to work in serving communities, in restoring vandalised and damaged parks, playgrounds, gardens and estates?

I realise there is no simple answer and even to change the justice system slowly is difficult but surely it is time to think carefully about how much it is possible to reform and punish people without simply resorting to jail.

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