Your humble Devil is now of the opinion that we should adopt something similar to the USA's "three strikes" rule. It would go a little like this:
- Three convictions for any unexpended crime automatically means prison.
- Three custodial convictions—suspended or otherwise—means life imprisonment. By which I mean that you will be eligible for parole after 25 years, but released on licence for the rest of your life: another conviction puts you straight back in the cells.
UPDATE: In the comments, Richard quite rightly points out that...
The problem is that you can get a suspended sentence for relatively minor offences.
Your immediate response to this might well be "so what?" And this would, I think, be quite reasonable. After all, the mugger might think that punching someone in the street and stealing their phone is a pretty minor thing really, but the victim doesn't.
But you might also think, as Richard does, that the whole thing is rather disproportionate.
First, it needs to be pointed out that those who are convicted of a crime need to go through quite a few safeguards: first they must actually be caught (odds against, there), then they must be actually convicted. And this must happen three times. One of the fuckers referred to in JuliaM's story had 145 convictions—that is not bad luck, that is a criminal lifestyle.
And every one of those 145 convictions represents a little more misery introduced to someone else's life; and, on the balance of probability, every one of those 145 convictions masks a myriad others for which he was not caught or convicted.
Second, whilst one might get a suspended sentence for relatively minor offences, I found out (about a year ago) that offending whilst on a suspended sentence does not mean that you go to prison. Yes, really.
When I was done for drink-driving, I was in the court for the case before me. The gentleman concerned was under two orders—a Community Payback and Supervision—and a suspended sentence. Plus he had been convicted two weeks before of theft, and had a sentence pending. And what actually happened?
All sentences were quashed and rolled up into one Supervision Order.
Despite all of the above, the gentleman who had been convicted of three thefts in the space of two months (including one whilst under a suspended sentence) got a lesser punishment than myself (who, whilst drunk, damaged nothing and killed no one).
I don't dispute my sentence—it was within the guidelines—but I do question his.
Third, the whole point of incredibly harsh sentences is to give you the opportunity not to commit crime. Because, here's the rub: I don't want more criminals to be caught. Nor do I want harsher sentences.
No, much as for Peel's police, the aim is "the absence of crime and disorder", not the more effective capturing and punishment of those who do it.
Unfortunately, the chances of being caught—let alone convicted—are pretty low: as such, you need to make the punishments extremely high in order to ensure that people think twice before they commit the crime in the first place.
"OK," says the potential criminal. "The chances of my being caught burgling this property is pretty low. On the other hand, if I am caught, I am going to be severely fucked. In the showers. By a huge man called Bubba."
Finally, I am willing to concede that there are a massive number of intrusive, unnecessary and unpleasant laws around: how many new offences did NuLabour create every year—thousands, wasn't it?
So, I shall make a compromise: the Three Strikes proposal above will apply, initially, only to those criminals who initiate force or fraud against someone's life, liberty or property. In other words, if you are caught with drugs, it won't apply: if you beat someone to a pulp or burgle their house, it will.
Does that seem fairer?