Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"Custody has its place"

One of my hobby-horses is the Scottish experiment, where the liberal left are following Mrs Thatcher in using the country as a test-bed for future UK legislation, albeit cushioned by vast wodges of English subsidy. In many (but not all - the Scots are pretty ethnically homogenous) ways Scotland is England's future. The campaign for higher NHS spending (Scots are the most unhealthy people in the UK and have the highest per capita NHS spend), ever more exciting sex and drug education initiatives, the battle against 'sectarianism' (attending Mass in assorted rural Scots churches over the years I've never got the impression it's a problem outside of Ibrox and Parkhead) as a substitute for the English elite's obsession with racism, the corruption and nepotism of the Central Belt Labour fiefdoms, the campaign against parental rights (couched in the language of 'child protection') - all these are more advanced north of the Tweed.

Stand by for the new improved criminal justice policy - not so much 'let the burglars out', which Mr Blunkett has already pioneered, as 'don't imprison them in the first place'. It appears the Scots are about to place all their hope in schemes which failed in England - anything rather than build more prisons.

Fraser Nelson makes some points which should be obvious but which bear repeating.

Scotland does imprison a greater share of its population than almost any other country in Europe - 0.11 per cent of Scots are currently behind bars - ranking fourth, behind England.

Surely proof that our judges are a bit too quick to send ’em down? Here lies the crucial distinction. Depressingly, Scotland’s prison population is so high because its crime rate is so high.

Scotland’s sheriffs and judges are already ranked among the most lenient in Europe. Scotland’s convictions, as a share of crime, are almost a third those of Ireland - which, itself, is hardly known as the prison cell of the continent. If Spain’s judges were in charge of Scotland’s courtrooms, our prison population would have doubled.

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