Saturday, May 12, 2007

Winston Churchill on prisons

“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry of all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”

2 Comments:

At Tue May 15, 04:29:00 PM PDT, Blogger unca said...

It is difficult to find anything to argue with in Churchill's statement and certainly those in the justice system and society at large need to be reminded of these principles. It is also important to understand that when Churchill wrote this in 1910 as Home Secretary he was confronted with a prison system that was truly barbaric by any measure. "Rowdies," drunkards, and prostitutes were routinely jailed for indeterminate periods and debtors prison was still a reality. Churchill was also fighting other reformers who believed that sentencing should depend not on the nature or severity of the crime itself but on a judge’s subjective opinion regarding the likelihood of the criminal offending again -- something we're still wresting with today. Churchill believed in rehabilitation but also in the validity of retributive justice ("hard coinage of punishment"). The reason his overall sentiment does not resonate in modern America is the popular consensus (right or wrong) that society is not adequately protected from habitual and dangerous criminals and is not (in my opinion) the result of a hardening of our collective hearts toward efforts to rehabilitate prisoners and re-admit offenders who have "paid their dues."

 
At Tue May 15, 07:34:00 PM PDT, Blogger bryan torre said...

can't really argue with that -- thoughtful as usual. thanks, unca.

 

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