Thursday, 18 August 2011

The illogical nature of riot/looting sentencing

In the Independent David Thomas QC says:

the sentences are not surprising because "an offender who takes part in a large-scale public disturbance cannot expect to be sentenced as if his actions had been committed in isolation".


It's human nature that where there are groups of people doing something, especially people you have empathy with, that you will feel an urge to follow and do the same. Some people will control this urge and maintain perspective, others may not.

How is it that someone who is a normally upstanding member of society, but falters in an intrinsically human way when a very specific set of circumstances appear, is deserving of greater punishment than someone who rationally decides to do the same thing.

We've had people jailed for upwards of 2 years for crimes that would possibly only get a community sentence in "normal" circumstances.

Tell me, who is a greater threat to society, someone who does a smash and grab on a store in normal conditions, completely unaided by the psychological affirmation of peers doing the same, in an environment that requires the store to be broken in to, with every possibility of police being ready and able to respond and catch you...or someone that has seen dozens of others do the same and seemingly get away with it, while the police are clearly busy, and only takes this opportunity because it's presented itself?

It makes no sense to me to describe these people are not acting "independently", as if everyone in the riots and looting were connected as if psychic, organising each other and only committing crimes after getting group approval.

I would much rather the type of person that looks for *any* opportunity to steal is punished more harshly than the one that doesn't look for an opportunity at all, but takes it when it occurs...yet it seems the mantra from our legal system is quite the opposite. It doesn't make logical sense to me.

Some people getting jailed will be getting what the deserve, fairly and in proportion to what they would normally get if they had committed the same acts outside of the riots. Many more are being unfairly dealt with because of a circumstance that should not have any bearing on sentencing, other people's actions and an issue of perception by the public.

Jailed for two years, Anthony Winder was told he had "thrown so much away" by stealing an ornament from a jewelers store, a sentence he would likely not have received if it had happened a few months earlier. I suggest that it is entirely the judge that has thrown this individual away. Given the opportunity to provide this man with suitable punishment, balancing the benefit of remaining at home with his kids with helping to restore the community he helped tarnish...the judge instead has decided that two children will be better off with the psychological distress that putting a father in prison can incur, and all for a trinket.

Yet despite all Cameron's blustering about fatherless families being the root of all evil, I doubt you'll hear him denounce this action that rips a family apart, for no greater benefit to anyone than to fulfill a judge's role in this obscene spectacle of public revenge over fair and balanced justice.

1 comment:

  1. I suppose you could make the claim that they're being punished not only for the theft/damage they've committed, but additionally for their contribution to the large scale public disorder that made effective policing more difficult. Though I'm not sure I'm quite convinced by that argument.


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