I am aware that in writing this post I risk coming across as unhealthily right wing. I also risk coming across as distastefully left wing, and as dangerously anarchic. My point here is that I am trying as best I can to distance myself from such reactionary labels, and to present a simple critique of a system which I feel consistently fails. Nor do I focus on one country alone, and call for any major shift in one way or another. My point is broader than that: the majority of people, of all creed and colour, are idiots.
I do not feel, on the whole, that sentences are too lenient. That would be fucking stupid, and I am not fucking stupid. One of the most striking things about last summer’s riots is that the sentences handed down were disproportionately harsh, and will most likely cause far more harm than good; a Mrs. Ursula Nevin, for example was incarcerated for five months for receiving a looted pair of shorts. That is five months, or at least two and a half with good behaviour, of her life reduced to sitting in a featureless exercise ground staring blankly at a rock-hammer; not even time enough to form a friendship with a likeable ageing black man and establish an illicit accounting business. She is a mother of two, whose children’s lives could now be severely knocked off course because she received – not stolen, received – one pair of shorts. There seems to me no reason to suspect that she would be more likely to offend in future than someone committing a similar offence in ‘peacetime’, as it were, as she had no previous convictions and was clearly caught up in the mob mentality of those few days; yet Andrew Gilbert QC thought it “proper” to disregard previous sentencing guidelines and deliver far harsher sentences than were warranted. This was repeated throughout the country. Some will claim that the harsher sentences were intended to serve as a deterrent for the wider populace; the problem with this is, of course, that riots really do not come along that often you fucking idiot, and if someone wants to burn down a carpet shop they would not take much notice of the consequences.
But at the same time I do not feel that sentences are, on the whole, too harsh either. Because when you look closely, that would also be fucking stupid, and it is this widespread fucking stupidity which forms the crux of my argument. The main problem in the majority of cases is the ridiculous dogmatism which underpins sentencing guidelines, and leads to such idiocy as the sentencing of Morton Belger for two hundred years for the possession of twenty items of child pornography. Now, while I do not condone child pornography – it is acceptable only in an incredibly small number of circumstances – I most definitely condemn the reasoning behind this sentence: two hundred years in prison, for twenty illicit items; ten years per item. This is so Arizonan and arbitrary as to almost entirely lose track of the original offence – if one possesses twenty such images, and another fifty, the most probably explanation is that the latter simply has access to a faster internet connection. To consider this worthy of three hundred extra years is irrational beyond comprehension.
Several hands over, there is the case of Anders Breivik. As the majority of the five people reading this will know, Andres Breivik killed 77 people in a militant Christian terrorist attack aimed against what he considers to be the inexorable rise of Islam in Europe; the majority of those whom he killed were fleeing children, and he has not even come close to expressing remorse. He has been declared sane, and as such is subject to the Norwegian law, and Norwegian sentencing guidelines. Unfortunately for me, and for society, these stipulate a maximum of twenty one years incarceration. Twenty one years, after which it is legally required that Norway lets this man go. I draw the line at the death penalty – I will never rule out the possibility of rehabilitation – but to assume that such a person can be rehabilitated in this time, rather than in a timeframe tailored to suit his murderously unusual needs, invites all manner of problems. Not least, the prospect of having a child-murdering racist roaming free. Rather, I would suggest that the existence of such people – in which cases the sentence is issued not for the sake of a deterrent, but for their removal from society and some vague hope of rehabilitation – calls for a sentencing system under which one can be locked away for as long as needs, until they pose no danger to anyone at all.
In short, it seems clear to me that the concept of a ‘justice system’ as it is understood now is too broad to be of any use. As has been seen, the all-encompassing remit of such a system leaves too little room for the consideration of individual cases, with the result that the ideal of justice frequently masks the smaller instances of injustice which it sanctions. And of course, as I say, everyone is an utter fucking idiot.