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.