The country is in a mood for revenge. The BBC reports that 200,000 people have signed a petition for withdrawal of benefits from those involved in rioting, while housing associations and councils have started to initiate evictions.
This is madness. If you believe – as I do, and David Cameron claims to – that these lootings were nothing more than simple criminality, then surely they should be treated no differently to ordinary criminal procedure. Criminals do not receive benefits while in jail anyway, whatever the Daily Mail may wish its readers to believe. But deprivation beyond that appears to be the aim of politicians now, wiht those not jailed losing their benefits and loss to those jailed extending beyond their sentence.
I support custodial sentences for many of the looters. I have absolutely no time for gangster culture. Many of these criminals have shown that decent people do indeed need protection from them – in the case of murderers, muggers and arsonists, for a long time. But the custodial sentence for the man who pinched two bottles of water was a totally irrational over-reaction.
If we have learnt anything about punishment in modern times, it is that prison purely as punishment and isolation does not work long term. The purpose must be rehabilitation, training and a better understanding of society and its obligations. There is not enough of this in custodial centres already. To add to it the idea that people should be returned to society in a state of enforced homelessness and with no income, is absolutely mad. There is no other word for it. A more certain way of causing future crime could not be found.