Baggie Trousers

By SkaBaggie

A New England #2: Crime & Punishment

"Norman Stanley Fletcher, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought before you by this court, and it is now my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences. You will go to prison for five years."

Where did the justice system go so horribly wrong? What happened to the good old days when the likes of Fletcher, Godber, Old Man Blanco and 'Orrible Ives would spend their long years of incarceration stealing tins of pineapple chunks and fixing the odd boxing match? If the doors of Slade Prison were still open today, we'd find it brimming with heroin and prone to fortnightly riots. Due to the severe overcrowding, even genial Harry Grout would be sharing his deluxe cell with four other inmates.

The prison system went the same way as reality TV. Once, it was about helping people (when Saturday night television meant watching Anneka Rice build a stoat sanctuary somewhere near Milton Keynes) but over time, the focus became on punishing folks (with Simon Cowell being the principle architect, and anyone with a brain larger than a satsuma being the victim).

I suspect that in both the justice system and the world of telly, there is no perfect way. The desire of society to see somebody pay for their crimes will always butt heads against their opportunity to atone for them. The needs of the offender must inevitably be weighed against the needs of the victim. The voice of those of us who like TV to engage our minds will forever be drowned out by those who treat the remote control like a vestigial limb, and tend to dribble on themselves while they're flicking aimlessly through hundreds of channels of irredeemable crap.

However, citizens, I believe there is a bipartite solution. (And you might want to strap yourselves in for this one).


Hang on. Don't pull that expression just yet. It's not as mad as you might think. Many experts believe that we're not that far from a breakthrough in our understanding of the concept of time travel, and as long-time readers of my journal will know, a close associate of mine has even produced detailed plans for a time machine made out of ham. The future is very much here.

But how does this relate to the justice system? It's quite simple. How many criminals would benefit from the opportunity to do a Marty McFly jaunt back through time, and persuade their younger selves away from offending? It's rehabilitation in the most direct fashion, and of course, it's catalysed by the television cameras recording their progress and broadcasting it to the nation. The offender has the opportunity at a second chance; if they succeed, the victim will never have suffered the crime; and I'm finally watching a reality TV show that doesn't make me want to kick my screen in. Everyone's a winner.

What if the offender doesn't want to prevent their younger self from becoming a criminal? Well, herein lies the real excitement factor in the show. The time machine is programmed with a default that will kick in if the inmate refuses to co-operate, or fails to achieve his goal. When his time runs out, he'll be transported back to a random time and place in the past to be punished by the laws of whatever society he fetches up in. Will he end up in Bentham's Panopticon? A Cambodian labour-camp? The dungeons of Ivan IV's Kremlin, which contain a giant frying pan for the sole purpose of cooking Ivan's enemies alive? You'll have to stay tuned to find out, folks!

I'll admit that the plan has its fair share of flaws. But so does every system ever devised for tackling crime. Justice is blind, which is why it will forever need a sensible guiding hand.

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