Thursday, 13 January 2011

Difficult to find the right answer.

I have had in mind for a day or two to write something about the young student jailed for throwing a fire extinguisher, but have not done so because I really hadn't formulated exactly what I thought and wanted to say. This morning there is an interesting article and two interesting letters in the Times (where would I be without it?) which have largely crystallised my thinking - so here goes:

For the benefit of readers in other countries, the story is roughly this. In the fairly recent student demonstrations against the rise in University Tuition fees, the whole thing got out of hand, as these things usually do, and an unidentified student threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of a high building. Chillingly, looking at the TV footage, it narrowly missed a line of policemen. Had it landed on the head of one of them it would probably have resulted in his death I would say.

After a few weeks the student concerned owned up to his Mum that he had done it, and she persuaded him that he must turn himself in. This week he was sentenced to 33 months in jail - an exemplary sentence.

Thinking about it all, my feelings were so mixed. He was a good student at sixth form college, studying for his A levels, he had a good supportive family, he had never been in trouble before - it seemed such a waste of a good life, and such a high cost for the tax payer. But then you saw the footage of that extinguisher falling and you realised the implications. Maybe community service was not an option (although I would like to bet he will never do anything like it again and is pretty appalled by his actions which undoubtedly were done on the spur of the moment).

But yes - I am sorry, he did need to go to jail,as of course, without question, did that other exemplary sentence of the week on the MP who fiddled his expenses. What awaits both of these men in prison is not going to be a happy experience (and I do have some experience of the inside of prisons - not I hasten to add from being a prisoner, but from being married to my first husband who taught in prisons).

Now in today's Times Jonathan Aitken (himself jailed for perjury in 1999) writes what I think is such a sensible article about both men. He suggests that the prison system needs to be "more imaginative" with men like this, who are not likely to escape, nor are they likely to offend again.

He goes on to say that neither of these men must allow themselves to become broken by the experience - they must try to gain something positive from it. And this, he suggests, can be attained by putting their obvious skills to good use inside the prison system.

Did you know for example that one third of the men and women in our prisons can neither read nor write? The same would be true of computer skills. And I am sure there are other areas of expertise. We certainly must not let that young man moulder away in prison.

Two letters on the letters page follow the same kind of thinking. I do hope that in the case of the 18 year old student he comes out of prison without feeling a broken young man, and that he does not let it ruin his life.

Do you have an opinion on this issue?

today's aros: the West wind brings a suggestion of Spring to the day.


MorningAJ said...

I personally think that both would be better used if they were forced to carry out community work. Give them curfews so they aren't free to come and go as they please. But it costs a fortune to keep someone in prison and the money could be better spent on providing education for all.

I was lucky enough to go to Uni (as a mature student) on a full grant with all my fees paid. If I chose to go now it would be simply impossible.

If the government wasn't moving toward the bad old days where only the very rich can afford further education maybe there wouldn't have been a riot in the first place.

The amount the MP fiddled on his expenses would pay for a couple of students to complete their degrees. (And they're thinking of paying him more than 50 grand because he's having to quit politics because he's been jailed.....) That's more than I got in grants for three years.

Sorry - I'm ranting. But I feel very strongly about the current education situation.

Tom Stephenson said...

If that fire extinguisher had landed on one of my loved ones, then I would be happy to throw away the keys - waste of skills or not.

Having said that, the police were looking for examples to be made. There are always a few idiots at every demonstration, and they have to pay the consequences I am afraid - if caught at all.

steven said...

weaver i favour community service - something that carries a commitment that allows the offender to use their skills for good and not ill. steven

Elizabeth said...

You cannot go round doing things that injure others --even 'on the spur of the moment'. I'm glad he managed to own up --so must have had a good family.
You are right --many people end up in gaol because they are ill educated. So it behooves those who have skills to share them.
America --where people shoot others rather than throwing things -- is going the same direction as Britain. Students end up with horrible amounts of debt.
24'F this morning --rather chilly for our morning walk.

Leilani Lee said...

There was a lot of tumult on college campuses when I was a student in the mid-60s (Vietnam, black power, etc) and it is so easy for otherwise "good kids" to get caught up in the emotional moment of a protest and do something stupid. In the US we have "country club prisons" for the sort of criminals who need punishment but not "hard time." I think community service would have been appropriate for the student. Yes, something "could have" happened but it didn't. Perhaps he will be get out early for good behavior.

Arija said...

When a mob gets out of hand, a cpmmunal mentality arises that in such a stressful situation so often leads to uncalled for violence which most of them would not dream of perpetrating at any other time.

Personally, I feel that the sentence is a little too harsh, especially since the lad gave himself up. Violence is never a goo thing to resort to but where we would restrain ourselves in age, the young don't seem to possess that particular safety switch.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I'm generally in favour of community sentences in cases like this, but I think you're right about people like that being able to use their skills inside prison to help other prisoners. In general though I think we lock people away too readily

Heather said...

This is a tough one Pat. He gave himself up to the police yet still had a custodial sentence. He probably wont have to serve all of it, and of course if he had been leniently treated it would have given others the wrong impression and opened the doors for more unruly and dangerous behaviour. It must have taken a lot of courage to own up to what he had done, and like you I hope this wont blight the rest of his life.

Totalfeckineejit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Totalfeckineejit said...

A crazily, wrecklessly dangerous thing to do, so while I feel sympathy for the young lad I can understand the tough sentence.
At (I think) the same demonstration I saw a mounted police person wrecklessly and unnecessarily charging through a crowd of people almost crushing a pregnant woman.Luckily, like the fire extinguisher, nobody was killed.
I wonder what the police person got? A medal probably.

ChrisJ said...

When my kids were in their late teens and later, I had nightmares about how a young person's life could be turned up side down, by something done so easily and unthinkingly. In the eighties it was smoking pot, not a terribly major drug, but a gateway drug to much worse things, and in our area we were known as the crystal meth capital of the U.S. Today it's more likely to be drinking and driving -- and killing someone.

Ash said...

If other sentences were made relative to this one then I would have said so be it, some sort of personal 'payment' has to be made for such actions - but our system as it is does not have any consistancy and much worse actions seem to have more leniency allocated to them. If a death had been the result of his actions then it would have been so much more 'serious', thankfully it was not the case - I suspect in going to the police of his own volition there is some learning already in process, I only hope the lad has the inner strength to work through what he has now been dealt and to come out on top of it.

Bill said...

This young man's sentence is too harsh.

The way we police demonstrations creates "mock battle" scenarios of ritual limited violence. Unfortunately and inevitably, sometimes situations become more serious than 95% of those involved on both sides intend.
When demonstrators -or policemen- step over the line they obviously can't be "let off" if caught - they should have to face the consequences of their actions.
However, they should not be judged to have been acting in "cold blood" unless they are people with histories of violence.
Unfortunately life is not so fair. When the police step over the line they close ranks - they have even been known to remove or conceal their numbers when policing demos.
This lad, however reckless his behaviour, thankfully caused no actual bodily harm. On the other hand, the policeman who probably killed Blair Peach in 1979 has never been brought to book. And, though identified, the numberless, masked policeman (twice previously investigated for violence) who pushed the non-demonstrator Ian Thompson to the ground at the G20 shortly before he died has faced no criminal charges either.

The Weaver of Grass said...

A reallt good debate going here - thank you so much for joining in.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

I don't know enough about the prison system in the UK to understand all the implications of this. Here, if this crime was considered a felony that record would follow this young man for the rest of his life and seriously affect his ability to get a job. Since studies suggest that good judgement doesn't really establish itself until around 25 years of age in many people, I would have preferred community service. The young man turned himself in and that should have counted for more than it seems to have done.

Anonymous said...

Not prison. An act of gross stupidity arising from a moment's rashness, not considered calculation. Is his imprisonment seriously likely to deter those intending and planning to do harm? Prison is likely to damage this young man. Who learns and who gains from his incarceration in one of our run-down, poorly-staffed prisons?

Dominic Rivron said...

This case has reminded me of that of Bradley Manning. Less well-known than Julian Assange, Manning is the 23 year old US soldier who leaked all the documents to Wikileaks in the first place.

He's been on remand for 8 months now and is apparently being given a very hard time by the authorities.