Lock 'em up and throw away the key

Matt Gardner - Online Columnist

Crime's getting a bit out of hand these days, isn't it? Although the press make Britain's knife problems out to be as great a problem here as guns are in America (where they have both guns AND knives), it's still a sorry state of affairs.

It was again brought to our attention in a slightly higher-profile case when Rob Knox, 18, who plays Marcus Belby in the upcoming Harry Potter film, The Half-Blood Prince, was brutally murdered outside of a London bar.

And yet again, the papers had a field day. It's perfectly understandable, but for the last few years, a pattern has definitely emerged. With the fickle and unpredictable nature of news generally, the crusade against knife crime or similarly popular evil pastimes rises then dissipates in the wake of a newer, fresher tragedy.

Granted, it's the same with anything. That's why news is so interesting. The main problem is caused by the identities of the newspapers themselves, who show their collective intentions through campaigns, extended columns and angled editorials. The only one I know that has survived well is the Daily Mirror's Honour the Brave Campaign, which even made it into a House of Lords discussion with the backing of Labour peer Lord Lipsey.

Oh, and we can't forget the Daily Express' tireless and remarkably dedicated coverage of Princess Diana and Madeleine McCann (I now refer to the paper as Madeliana).

But the current crime pandemic (as I suppose it will have been called somewhere along the line) has a much more simple solution. Newspapers have had t-shirt campaigns, the odd rally and special issues that focus on the problems. Since the jailing of Paris Hilton, which highlighted the need for true justice to be done, the answer becomes much more simple.

Build more prisons. Lots of them. And give them the Kwik Save (R.I.P.) No Frills treatment.

Okay. I'm not saying that we should employ the landscape of a Soviet gulag and the brutality of the Hanoi Hilton, but what is there to fear in prison these days?

Week after week we hear of judges not convicting bonafide criminals because of a lack of prison space. The same thing results in shortened sentences. And yet, particularly for the tiny crimes, fines and penalties are rising. It seems that as a country, Britain prefers the easy route when it comes to crime and punishment (and certainly not Dostoevsky's).

To balance the justice and have a fair system for all, everyone has to serve the correct time. No more manslaughter convictions getting 2 years with parole in 14 months. No more serial killers getting what seems to be one life sentence. The Americans have got it right - add the sentences together. Give a murderer of five people 250 years. Drop the notion of saying one sentence and actually serving another.

However, the argument for me isn't in judicial reform - that's another story, perhaps much bigger than this one. Reform starts at the base.
When Paris Hilton was incarcerated for taking the mick out of the law for too long, she was stuck in Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles - the world's largest jail. I still think you could make them bigger myself. Although many will complain that it's an eyesore or similar, it's the way forward. Build more, or build bigger.

Then again, Alcatraz got it right. Stick it in the middle of nowhere with no chance of escape - drain the enthusiasm out of prisoners and make their time there seem like more of an eternity. No more TVs, restricted radio, no more entertainment. There are plenty of islands in the Outer Hebrides that aren't inhabited.

And what happened to all this talk about prison ships? Isn't that a great idea? Stick them in an old converted oil tanker (as they'll be going for quite cheap soon, I imagine) and stick it in the middle of the sea. Scapa Flow did a good job in the wars, we could just stick them up there.

Finally, Louis Theroux also cottoned onto a large part of American law and order - desert prisons. Give them pink clothing to make them all feel stupid. Give them only-slightly-less-than-condemned food. Make them pay.

I know of no other place where people commit crime just to get in jail, but we hear about it regularly. Why do people do it? To, ironically, have more freedom and control in their lives. This has to stop.

Prison isn't a matter of money. It's a matter of how many criminals there are. If prison recalls awful memories for criminals, then they won't go back - and as such, they won't repeat offend. I know nothing is ever as simple as that, but you have to start somewhere - and we DO need to start.