A few weeks ago we reported on the the Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breiviks who’d successfully argued that his human rights were being denied in prison because there’d been so much isolation forced upon him. Some people feel that if you’ve killed someone that you no longer deserve the same rights as a citizen who keeps to the law and respects others. Meanwhile others take human rights law exactly as it says: all humans are born equal and deserve their rights no matter who they are or what they’ve done.
Well a survivor of Breiviks killings, where 69 people died, has spoken out that he thinks it shows Norway’s strength that they’ve taken Breivik’s complaints seriously:
“We can see his grievances separately from his acts. We can say that everyone is equal before the law in Norway, including Breivik. He should be treated with the same respect for human rights as any other inmate in our prisons.”
In a recent PSHE presentation at school, Year 9 students listened to an ex-prisoner describe the boredom he experienced whilst enduring a custodial sentence (in prison) for murder. At some stage the presenter described the law of joint enterprise, and explained to the students how dangerous this law was for people especially if they were parts of gangs.
So what is joint enterprise?
Under the doctrine of joint enterprise, a person who assists or encourages the committing of a crime can be held as legally responsible as the person who actually carries it out.
In cases of murder, an individual can be convicted of murder if they foresaw that the person they were with would “possibly” kill or inflict serious harm.
In RS GCSE when we look at Section 4 Crime and Punishment in Unit 8, and in the History GCSE, we learn the case of Derek Bentley who was hanged for murder in 1953 even though he’d not fired the shot which killed Pc Miles. Bentley had been sentenced to death on 11 December for killing Pc Miles during a bungled break-in at a warehouse in Croydon, Surrey. The court was told his co-defendant, Christopher Craig, fired the fatal shot but because he was still a juvenile in the eyes of the law he escaped the death sentence and was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Well today the Supreme Court has stated that it was not right that someone could be convicted of murder if they merely foresaw that the person they were with might commit a crime. They have emphasised that they had to intend to help carry out, or encourage, the crime that actually resulted. This huge judgement by the Supreme Court basically means that in the coming weeks and months numerous people who are currently serving sentences in prison may try to launch appeals against their convictions. Keep your eyes out for more mention of Joint Enterprise in the news.
This might be a useful film to watch for RS GCSE students thinking about forgiveness, redemption, custodial sentences and rehabilitation, however it may also be used as a media source in Unit 1 Believing in God. It shows the prison governor referring to his Christian beliefs by quoting from the Bible and the prisoner responding. Is this all a negative portrayal of Christian beliefs or positively showing how a prison governor is aided by his faith?
Remember who Antony Walker was? We learn about him in Year 11 in a Forgiveness lesson: an innocent black teenager who was attacked on the street simply because of his skin colour. Well now one of his killers, Joey Barton’s brother, has had one year taken off his prison sentence for community service in prison.
The Daily Mail reports how Michael Barton had been given an eighteen year sentence in 2005 after being found guilty of the racist murder but that he’s going to be let out one year early. Antony’s mum Gee Walker says: ‘We put our trust in the judges, in the law, and then they go and do this. It’s just wrong. I will have to live with it, but what about the people who have not got a faith like me? Where does it leave them?”
You will remember Gee and her daughter Dominique from the video we watch in class where they say they forgive Anthony’s killers as they don’t want to carry the baggage of hatred around them and that in the Bible it says 77 times we must forgive.
About the reduction in the killer’s sentence thought Gee continues, “This sends completely the wrong message to criminals. It tells them that if the pretend to be good they will win. I don’t believe what he has done in prison is anything more than pretence.” Dr Walker, a college lecturer who tragically saw the murder weapon sticking out of her son’s head as she sat beside him on his deathbed, added: “I believe [Barton] is playing a game and he sees that he is winning by doing that.”
To remind yourself of Anthony’s story and how a mother forgives the murderers of her son you can read about it or watch the short video we watch in class.
Often in films and TV programmes all the emphasis is on police investigations (will they be able to find who committed the crime or enough evidence to charge someone) or the court case (will the defendant be found guilty or innocent). What often gets missed (maybe it’s too boring?) is what the guilty person is sentenced with: a custodial or non-custodial sentence.
In GCSE Religious Studies we look at the pros of custodial sentences:
Prison is an immediate, easily understood punishment. Following the sentence, the convicted criminal is immediately escorted out of the courtroom, placed in the prison van and to be taken behind the high walls of the prison. No other sentence is seen to have this immediacy.
Prison is the only way of ensuring that criminals are taken out of circulation. Alternatives to prison, by their very nature, are riskier.
Prison is a deeply unpleasant place. Being in prison is a badge of shame, and society needs to feel that those who break the rules have been shamed.
Prison is the most serious punishment that society can inflict and is therefore often seen as a kind of barometer of how seriously society – and the government – takes crime.
Prison deters others from committing a similar crime
As well as the cons:
Prison costs, according to the latest estimates, £37,500 per year to lock someone in prison. (Or £42,000 for a young offender). Costs of community sentences vary, but the most frequently used orders cost between £2,000 and £4,000. The basic fact is that prison is about twelve times more expensive than a community sentence.
Alternatives can require offenders to pay back for their crimes through reparation and community service and help them learn better ways to live. They can be challenging and don’t confirm anti-social behaviour the way prison does
Putting an offender into jail will bring them into contact with a large number of other criminals, many of them with much more experience.
Prisons take offenders far away from their homes, families and friends. Two thirds of those in prison lose their jobs, around a third also lose their homes. 40 per cent of prisoners lose contact with their families. All of these factors significantly increase the likelihood of reoffending.
An article in The Guardian this weekend describes how community rehabilitation in Manchester is tougher than a custodial sentence (i.e. prison). Would you rather criminals go to prison or have non-custodial sentences to ‘punish’ them for their crimes/ rehabilitate them? I wonder whether there is a difference of opinion across the world…