It's bad enough when it's just the press that's telling you that the riots happened because of our "broken society" and that those responsible need to be locked up for a very long time/birched/packed into Wembley Stadium/sent on National Service (I can't add to the brilliance of Liberal Burblings on that one)/ take away their Council house/ remove benefits/send them to Afghanistan. It's a million times worse when you hear the same sort of nonsense from the Prime Minister. I really could weep.
If it weren't for Liberal Democrats talking sense, I would just want to curl up in despair. And at least we are in a position to actually take the stupidity out of Government policy. I think our voices have taken a bit too long to be heard, but, finally, we are taking the courage of our convictions and speaking out. Tom Brake was fantastic on Newsnight last night on sentencing policy and the Guardian has some strong words from other Liberal Democrats, including Tessa Munt and David Ward. When the Telegraph, for pete's sake, slates the Tories and hails Nick Clegg, it just shows how ridiculous Cameron's utterances are.
And, I'm glad to say, that Nick Clegg has been putting forward what I and many other Lib Dems have said from the start - restorative justice is more effective than just locking people up.
If it weren't for the Liberal Democrats, there would simply be no voice of reason in this - Labour are too busy blaming the cuts that they aren't really offering any solutions - and we're not going to forget in a hurry how partial they were to the old knee jerk reaction when they were in power.
I wanted really to make a couple of points about prison sentences. I really couldn't believe the 4 year jail terms handed out to the people who used Facebook, unsuccessfully as it happily turned out, to incite a riot. That is absolutely ridiculous. Sure, it was a stupid, irresponsible, wrong thing to do - but 4 years? It's not anywhere close to a proportionate punishment and surely it will be overturned on an appeal which will cost the taxpayer a small fortune in legal fees and was easily avoidable.
Liberal Democrat Tom Brake made the point that:
there have been some cases where people who have committed petty offences have received sentences which, if they had committed the same offence the day before the riots, they would not have received a sentence of that nature.Such knee jerk reactions and inconsistent sentencing really won't do anything to help in the long term.
But let's look at some of the other non riot related garbage we've been hearing about prison sentences for a while now. The constant whine that people get out after serving half their sentence after a life of total luxury in television. It always surprises me that Sky tv is cited as evidence of a life of opulence. Has anybody actually watched it? It's mostly garbage. Its greatest use is the Infernal Wickedness of Sky Plus which prisoners won't have. But, I digress. Let's say someone is sentenced to 12-18 months. Sure, they may be out in 6-9 months, but is that really the end of their punishment?
For a start, they will most likely have lost their job, if they had one, and employers aren't exactly falling over themselves to hire ex offenders. The Prison Reform Trust talks about the importance of people having housing to go to when they come out of prison, citing much lower re-offending rates for those who have housing. It's really scary to think that 40% of those who had a secure tenancy when they went into prison lose it while they are inside and - and here's an appalling fact - as near as dammit half those with mental health problems have nowhere to go on release. If we want to talk about society being sick, sure - chucking sick people on the streets would be a fair enough place to start. Oh, and if you come out of prison homeless, employers are even less likely to look at you.
So you really need to look beyond the headline figure on a sentence. For some, one stupid, youthful act can turn into a life sentence, a spiral of re-offending or homelessness or joblessness which casts a very long shadow. That is such a waste of potential, as well as an ordeal for those who have to deal with the consequences of those crimes. How much better would it be to actually help these people turn their lives round? We know that it works. Recognising the consequences of what you've done and changing your behaviour is not easy and this kind of thing is not a soft option.
Ultimately, what I want to see is none of these people coming before the Judge over the riots offending again. And that I think is what the public actually want. The chances of that happening, though, in the current climate, are slim.