It is reported that a young mother was attacked by her boyfriend who forced his way into her home, threatened her with an iron bar, dragged her from her house, drove her to an abandoned quarry, made her strip naked and tied her to a tree – because she said she wanted to go home to bed and not spend the night with her attacker. The attacker even threatened her life by saying ‘there’s already a hole dug for you.’ Unbelievably the attacker was sentenced to a mere 20 months in prison, a sentence of which it is likely only half will actually be served.
Leaving aside the obvious point that the punishment doesn’t even come close to fitting the crime, one of the key principles of the justice system is that it should adequately protect the public from further offences. If this were a single, isolated example of a failure within the system then it would be too much, but it is not: it is symptomatic of a much wider problem of victims being failed by our soft-touch sentencing policy for such violent offences.
We need to get a grip on the shattered justice system in this country. We need to make sure that punishments fit the crime – and that sentences are meaningful, with an expectation that time will be fully served so that countless criminals do not get released without serving the sentences they were given. Parole should be available on a case by case basis, not an expected aspect of the system.
Rehabilitation should always be a core priority for our justice system, but punishment and protecting the victim should never take a back seat role. In the UK, the right-wing have traditionally been pro-tough sentences and the left-wing have been pro-rehabilitation. In my view, and that of my Party, they should be two sides of the same coin. The criminal justice system should be tough enough to act as a deterrent, making sure that no-one who has been to jail wants to go back. Within that framework, every possible support should be provided for those in prison who wish to turn their lives around. So I was also disgusted last month when a criminal released from jail, who had found an honest job on the outside, was returned to jail because of an administrative mix-up on the part of the prison relating to his job.
Our system is failing victims and letting them down badly. It is failing in attempts at rehabilitation during and after sentencing. Society must not continue to sweep these issues under the carpet.