BBC Online is currently leading with this story about a man convicted of having child porn on his computer and not being sent to jail because the prisons are too full.
If you read the article, strikes me that the quotes from the man are a bit odd - it's almost as if he's been primed to say the things most embarrassing for the Government.
Anyway, the story raises the wider issue of the benefits of sending people to prison. With the UK's prisons full to bursting, are new prisons and prison ships the answer? Or do we need to look again at how we deal with people who break the law?
For me, there are three considerations when thinking about custodial sentences.
1. Is this person a threat to others and will they reoffend if they are not incarcerated?
2. Will this person benefit from being in prison and be in a better position to contribute to society on release?
3. Is there a better way of dealing with this person?
I believe that we do send too many people to prison. I worry especially about younger people and those committing minor offences going to prison and coming out more likely to offend - and more seriously. Also, the serious impact being in prison will have on all aspects of a person's life, social and work, cannot be underestimated.
For these reasons, prison should always be a last resort. Community service might be seen as a soft option, but it doesn't have to be - and can be a much more productive option for the offender *and* victim or society as a whole.
But I also believe that there are times when sentences are not long enough. Whether murder, rape or another serious offence, if someone is convicted and sentenced to prison they should clearly not be released if they have not been rehabilitated.
Politicians often appeal only to the base tabloid "lock 'em up" emotions when it comes to law & order, which dictate that prison is the only sensible option. That is just short-sightedness and we all lose out in the long run.
It sounds simple, but as well as addressing the root causes of crime we need to take a serious look at how we deal with offenders.