Thursday, January 13, 2005

"They are not inherently bad people."

Here's what would have happened had Sally Geeson's alleged killer committed suicide after being caught.

Heroin addict Sarah Campbell and a nasty piece of work called Kim Woolley were convicted of the manslaughter of a retired doctor, Amrit Bhandari, who collapsed after being harassed for drug money in Chester. When he refused, Woolley started shouting that he had raped her. Dr Bhandari collapsed with a heart attack, at which point they stole his wallet and credit cards - while he was dying. Not inherently bad people.

Does jailing women eally work ? asks the BBC. Well, it keeps a few disgusting people off the streets.

Why did my daughter die ? asks Sarah Campbell's mother.

It sounds as if she died because she was afraid of reprisals from Woolley, against whom she'd testified. According to this report "she was worried about reprisals from her co-accused in the manslaughter trial - who she was to testify against".

Woolley was given four and a half years in January 2003, so she'll be back on the streets in a couple of months.

From previous reports into youth jails such as Feltham, it sounds as if a very large number of prison suicides are the result of bullying and harassment by other inmates. Perhaps the picture of an undifferentiated mass of poor vulnerable thieves and killers isn't quite the case. It sounds very much as if they're divided into the bullies and the bullied - a very good reason not to be sent to prison. I'm sure I wouldn't last five minutes.

In Bush's Gulag, too, prisoners are far more at risk from each other than from sadistic guards. Listen to Feargal Keane this week on Radio 4.

As a gay black man, Roderick Johnson feared what might happen to him when he was incarcerated in one of the toughest prisons in Texas. But he did not imagine that he would be sold for sex between prison gangs for as little as a few dollars.

Roderick Johnson tells Fergal Keane about one of the silent scandals of U.S. prison life: the sexual exploitation of young men by other inmates with the full knowlege of prison staff. He is currently suing the prison authorities for failing to protect him.

Last year President George Bush wrote into law the "Prison Rape Elimination" bill in Roderick Johnson's name.

The Howard League et al want to solve the problem of prison suicides by letting all the bad people out. I'm all for policies to prevent prisoners bullying each other - not because they are poor victims but because many of them are bad people from whom weaker inmates need protection.

In the meanwhile, as the Manhattan City Journal reports, New York has discovered the ideal way to reduce the prison population - institute zero tolerance of petty crime and send more people to prison. After a few years the message penetrates and crime starts to fall. In time the prison population falls too - because there's less crime.

"For years, the Left has warned that tougher sentencing would create a syndrome of “mass incarceration” and the creation of a “prison-industrial complex.” But as the New York experience shows, the crackdown has worked on more than one level. Good policing and tough sentencing have pushed New York to a tipping point, deterring some potential malefactors from crime. Now, if crime goes down and stays down, the prison population should keep dropping as well."

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