Justice should be the same for anyone: rich or poor; male or female; gay or straight; religious or atheist, British or non-British. I reject the ideas of those who claim that some people should be treated more leniently than others. The notion that women should receive a lighter sentence than men for the same crimes is a nonsense, as is any thought that cultural values could excuse sexual offences. Likewise, I reject the ideas of those at the other end of the spectrum who would use our justice system as a form of revenge or who would treat immigrants more harshly.
I believe that sentencing policy is generally too light for a range of offences, mainly those involving violence, dishonesty or contempt of a court order. The impact of violent and dishonest offences upon the victim is profound: burglary, serious assaults and theft from an employer for example should be treated more seriously than they are at present. If you, through repeatedly breaking the law, find yourself disqualified from driving and continue to drive anyway, then the level of danger and contempt is such that only a prison sentence can be justified.
I recently read this article which provides a case study of everything that is wrong with the current system. I’m going to redact nationality and religion because these things shouldn’t matter when it comes to sentencing.
A father, supported by his family, had a surprise in store for his daughter’s 14th birthday. He sent her younger siblings off to school, then gathered the family together. He dressed her in a wedding dress and, it appears without warning, introduced her to a man in his 30s. A wedding ceremony was conducted and she was coerced into saying words in a language she did not even speak. Later that day, the man she had just ‘married’ raped her. It appears that the father did not know that the man was going to rape his daughter, and the agreement was that they would not have sex until she was of legal age to do so. The daughter fled the family home after being raped.
The man who she had ‘married’ left the country soon after, and only the father was in court to answer charges over the forced marriage. The primary responsibility of course lies with the rapist, but the father’s actions seriously endangered his daughter. Parents have a responsibility to keep their children out of harm’s way, not to put them directly into it.
Ask yourself what you think a fair sentence in such circumstances should be. Does it meet the aims of punishment – does it adequately punish the crime, deter others from committing similar offences, and protect the public? Rehabilitation must come after the rest, if only because the others relate to society and rehabilitation to the offender only. It’s important, and we need a prison system which is able to meet that need.
You can read this article in full on my Huffington Post blog here.