Being soft on justice is bad enough but without rehab what’s the bloody point?

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As a society, we’re not very good at helping those who really need some support, or even just a modicum of encouragement. Even our misguided, often prevalent, belief about the Nanny State picking up the pieces of our personal and social malaise, is usually an unrealistic pipe-dream of tsunami proportions. So what of our expectations when it comes to the rehabilitation of ‘habitual’ criminals and substance abusers, if indeed we actually have any?

In some respects I can partly understand the ethos of Owen Jones when he wrote his book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. In his acclaimed investigation, Jones explored how our working class has gone from “salt of the earth” to “scum of the earth.” He argues that, the chav stereotype is used by many, not least the government, as “a convenient fig leaf” to hide more complex issues and avoid genuine engagement with people and the social and economic problems impacting upon widening inequality.

In many respects, the Chav stereotype is no different to how we, in the main, predominantly view the criminal and drug dependant element of our society. Far too often the general social retort is simply “lock ’em up and throw away the keys.” Often incarceration is a requirement to protect society however; it can only ever partly resolve some (but not all) of the causation factors of criminality. There also has to be some form of rehabilitation involved in the punishment process, otherwise as now in many cases, criminality becomes little more than cyclic.  

Writing in The Daily Mail recently, Kathy Gyngell, a drugs policy analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies said we are so soft on justice… Many would agree but she wasn’t falling into the usual sociopolitical and rhetorical tirade. The one so often favoured by politicians, and individuals who usually don’t fully understand, or even care about many of the issues.

The causation factors leading to someone being involved in crime, or substance abuse, aren’t important, are they? After all, it’s their choice, isn’t it? They made that ‘choice’ and they should accept the consequences, shouldn’t they? “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the crime” etc.

In her piece she explained why Alex Livingstone, a self-confessed ‘habitual’ crook and drug addicted thief, might complain about not being sent to jail (see here).

An offender being escorted from court for complaining his sentence is too lenient is the stuff of satire. It’s a better joke even than a judge letting Pete Doherty walk free from Court knowing his pockets were full of heroin that he said he’d forgotten about.  (Both are true) Rumpole would have appreciated the bathos…(Kathy Gyngell)

Although the article began in a slightly humorous manner, it went on to fully discuss many of the issues around sentencing, imprisonment, community based orders and programs but importantly, it highlighted the almost constant failures in any realistic rehabilitation process.

As Gyngell also pointed out recently (see here), even more shocking is the fact that; more than 12,000 children under 16 were arrested for drugs offences last year, which partly shows the Government’s casual response to all the issues involved. Raymond Lunn, an ex-offender who now attempts to help others understand the process and issues around ‘going straight’ wrote on the experience of prison…

Damaged Goods: …despite the traumatic events that occur to people in prison, it doesn’t seem to then change their criminal behaviour once released, or at least not everyone which, included me.  I put this down to the fact that the event is locked away, you put it to the dark recesses of the mind, and carry on as normal – until you begin to desist from crime & face the horrors of incarceration, it helps desisting, but it opens a psychological mess trapped for years in denial.  We send young people to prison, often not for serious crimes – we expect the young person to come out rehabilitated, instead they come out more damaged than when they went into prison, damaged goods…(ex-offender)

But this rehabilitation failure isn’t new. It may partly be the result of our inability to really understand anything about our society, past or present – despite all the organisational “lessons learned” rhetoric. We simply continue to be happy to reside in the here and now of our small lives. But much of this poor understanding, around many of the issues that blight our society, is born out of a mostly myopic vision of the future. A lack of any real desire, or tangible action, to actually do something about it.

Back in the early 1980’s I had a regular ‘customer’ who was a petty criminal and minor drug user, we’ll call him Jim for the purposes of this post. Jim wasn’t what you could describe as an efficient crook, neither did he have any designs on making a ‘healthy’ living from his criminal activity. His sole requirement was to fund his habit, dole payments just weren’t enough. Often during interview, his desire was actually to get caught by the police most of the time, especially if he had the chance of Christmas at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

You see at home Jim had no Christmas, the family ‘Nash’ payments didn’t go any way near covering the ‘requirements’ of his large family, non of whom worked and in any case, the TV had been repossessed by the rental company (again). How could he enjoy Christmas at home? No, a spell inside during the festive period allowed him to consume three square meals per day, have a proper Christmas dinner and watch the Morecambe & Wise Christmas special on TV. Why stay at home?

These were all things he’d never experienced, finances were tighter than the proverbial duck’s backside and in any case, his father was on the piss in the pub most of the time and his mother, well she was usually up the road at the local lorry park turning tricks for backy money. Jim almost prayed to be locked up, he wouldn’t be left fending and caring for his five siblings and he could even source his bit of recreational smoke whilst inside, without having to do a break to get it.

The ‘Jims’ of this world are still there and always will be, until they’re able to find a better way to support themselves (or their habits), in a more socially acceptable and/or legal manner. In the current social and financial climate things are probably even worse so, is it our fault or theirs? In many respects our society, but mostly the government and myriad of associated agencies, are the ones who should really shoulder much of the blame… Too much rhetorical hot air and not enough tangible action!

I agree we all have choices in life, most of us make sensible ones but many don’t. Many lack the life skills, education, intelligence and/or any realistic opportunity of actually making any difference to their plight, perceived or actual. Once caught and punished for their wrongdoings, is it really fair that we expect them to change, without giving them a helping hand?

But even those with ‘celebrity’ status (and the associated cash) like Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse, or perhaps even the obviously troubled Whitney Houston, have difficulties breaking free from their dark ‘troubles’ without some help, despite having the funds to pay for that help. Is it fair that our society fails to help those without the financial ability for self-help funding? Yes some won’t accept any assistance or help, from anyone, let alone government agencies, to break free of their cyclic self-destruction however; is it right they are denied the help that is available, simply because we can’t be arsed?

I’m not suggesting that we simply throw more cash at the problem, that’s usually what the government does, at least for a short period to placate public angst, and especially in the periods leading up to elections. No, we really have to make a more concerted effort at ‘working in partnership’ (God how I hate that mostly synthetic platitude) for a change. All agencies and organisations involved, be they statutory or voluntary need to get a grip. Always assuming we actually want to address some, if not all of the issues impacting upon these individuals?

The first step in the process must be to actually provide more robust and effective rehabilitation efforts, at present it seems we’re sadly lacking in this area. How we actually go about it will be down to the ‘experts’ but without it, we’re destined to continue down the road of cyclic criminality. One thing is for sure, especially with the current cuts to public resources, we can’t continue relying simply upon the police and the courts to stem this tidal flow. It’s like expecting the proverbial small Dutch boy to get his thumb out again.

Sometimes it needs a little more than just the individual ability to see light beyond the darkness!

One thought on “Being soft on justice is bad enough but without rehab what’s the bloody point?

  1. Excellent piece of work Dave. Very thought provoking.

    With the increasing reliance on alternative disposal methods in policing with the various restorative justice practices the problem is exaccurbated.

    Whilst not suggesting that incarceration is the only solution for recidivists, any solution must make the offender think twice. I am not convinced that the soft option alternatives will ever achieve this.

    Back on the old crime numbers bandwagon, I can’t see it getting any better whilst Chief Constables continue to rely so heavily on alternative disposals to manipulate performance.

    I wonder whether it is not time for society to accept that only those offenders who want to change will actually seek help to reform. Perhaps trying to force the issue is just throwing more good money after bad and non repentent offenders should serve full sentences so that the rest of society is protected. Is this not the most democratic solution? I’m not saying it is, merely putting forward a thought process. If this were the right way to go, then cash wasted on rehab of offenders who will clearly re offend could be more wisely spent on increasing prison space.

    The big stumbling block is politicians refusing to be absolutely bloody honest and admitting that most crime and true justice is swept under the carpet for fear of the public losing confidence. In truth, most of the public already doubt the crap that is thrown out by the statisticians. We would be far better to know the extent of the problem and pay to put it right whatever the cost.

    But that is la la land! I can but dream.


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