David Cameron is coming (…for our porn)

James Willby

Our government is about to embark on one of the greatest attempts at Internet censorship we have ever seen.

The Prime Minister will announce today that all pornographic material will be henceforth unavailable to UK consumers. Customers will be asked by their ISPs whether they wish to opt-in to viewing pornographic content, and ISPs will be forced to do even more in the fight against content that, to use the Mr. Cameron’s words, “pollutes minds and causes crime.” The possession of pornography depicting rape will be made illegal, closing a current loophole in the law.

Sensible? Proportionate? No. Not even a bit. As has been pointed out by other commentators, it is already illegal to view images of children being abused and Section 63 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 banned the viewing of rape & other extreme pornography. So with these facts in mind, why is this being done? I would suggest the answer is threefold.

First and foremost, the Conservative leadership knows that it has a problem attracting female voters. From the fallout from the now infamous “Calm down dear” jibe to Labour’s Angela Eagles, Mr. Cameron is often portrayed as being out of touch with women and their concerns. So, what could be better than a campaign to protect children from the evils of pornography? Surely that could only endear him to the legions of mothers up and down the land.

Secondly, it is an attempt to make people feel ashamed for indulging in what has been hitherto perfectly legal content. By forcing people to request access to pornography, you make its use a taboo: a social faux pas that must be hidden and kept under lock and key. It is typical of the kind of nudge politics of which this government is so fond and reminds me a little of a quote from the late great Christopher Hitchins, who on visiting the Oxford Union remarked at how his old college bed had clearly been designed with the mindset of “we can’t stop you doing it, but we make it jolly uncomfortable if you do.”

Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, it allows the state to record and monitor the IP addresses being used to access pornography. And in the event of a child-abduction or a sexual assault, how long do you think it would take for the authorities to identify those “undesirables” - those persons with a predilection for the more extreme forms of pornography – in the vicinity?  The very notion that a person’s private sexual tastes could become a mitigating factor in a criminal investigation indicates what a slippery slope we are now on.

The truth is, there is plenty of content out there that we might find distasteful or down-right unpleasant. And of course there should be methods which ensure it is not found by younger eyes, but there already are if parents are willing to use them. From child locks to preventing games consoles from playing mature content to online filters for pornography, there are a multitude of options available. All that is required is a bit of gumption and some actual parental responsibility, not an attempt to criminalise or shame those persons whose tastes we don’t share.

So I for one will be signing up to view pornography. Not because I have any interest in it personally, but because the right to view legal material is not one to be hidden behind a cloak of shame or the electoral frailties of the Conservative Party.

Follow James on Twitter.

Hands up: who understands the PCC elections?

Timothy Barnes 10.41am

Across England and Wales last Saturday, small groups of volunteers were working to help candidates in the first election for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), which will take place tomorrow, 15th November.

I was in Cambridge for a couple of hours, helping Sir Graham Bright in his bid to become PCC for “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough”, so covering the City of Ely, where I was born and raised. Sir Graham’s campaign was supported by local councilors, party members, Cambridge University students and not one, but three MEPs: Vicky Ford, Geoffrey Van Orden and David Campbell Bannerman.

Asking around my friends on Monday morning, I was struck by how few people seem to be aware of the elections, and even less of the candidates, in their areas.

Turnout everywhere is expected to be low, so much so that at this point 20 per cent might be considered a good result. Regular listeners to the Today programme would be aware of issues that have made it difficult for independent candidates to stand - such as relatively high deposits (£5,000 versus the £500 for a parliamentary election) - but are probably ignorant of what PCCs will actually be able to do, or why anyone thinks we need them. Like so much of the media, Today has covered perceived problems with the principles of the PCC elections, rather than the issues that those elected might be expected to deal with.

There will be no vote in London, where the Mayor already has oversight of the Metropolitan Police. It is possible that London-based journalists and news outlets have covered the story less than might have been the case had London been involved, but that can’t account for the lack of excitement in most local media. It is true that many local papers have covered basic information on candidates through interviews or profiles, but there has been little debate about their plans or coverage in the editorial pages that would have more usefully served their readers.

The result is that most voters are fairly apathetic, many are ignorant about the role, and a good number are factually wrong about what they believe will happen.

In Cambridge, a reasonable proportion of the people to whom I spoke were unhappy with what they saw as the politicisation of the police. They saw election of PCCs as an unwanted involvement of elected representatives in the way the police service is run. However, most were unaware that local politicians, usually councillors, already sit on Police Authorities, which currently oversee police activities. What is more, their concerns seemed to be more about whether PCCs would be able to interfere in police investigations rather than issues over priorities of local policing, support and other topics that the candidates are campaigning on.

I am not aware of any candidate in these elections, whether party-backed or independent, who has not pledged to fight for politics-free police investigations and support for front-line policing. But there are things that PCCs will be able to do that will effect the lives of ordinary people and those voters should be able to express their views at the ballot box having received more information.

In Cambridgeshire, there is a budget of almost £140 million for the local police force and the elected PCC will have a strong say in its priorities. Sir Graham is looking to find ways to separate the oversight of the police from their day-to-day activities and intends to move the oversight function of the PCC out of the existing police headquarters building creating a clear division between the two. He also hopes to support local organisations that support victims of crime, such as rape crisis groups and crime prevention schemes, including the NFU’s FarmWatch, which helps protect rural communities, a major issue for much of Cambridgeshire beyond its three cities.

Other candidates have different spending and policing priorities that voters might prefer but it is hard for anyone to make an informed choice with so few views having been given a decent airing or subjected to much public or press scrutiny. I have met with similar comments when making telephone calls on behalf of candidates in Cumbria, Derbyshire and elsewhere across England.

Anyone seeking elected office needs to rely on the media to help spread word of their activities and policies. This is particularly true for independent candidates, who lack access to an active supporter base used to running campaigns, distributing leaflets and contacting voters. That has not happened here and while it is understandable that some people object to the very idea of electing PCCs, that does not change the situation: there will be an election for them on Thursday and voters should have been better served in learning about the candidates and their policies.

If you want to know more about any candidate in the PCC elections, the Home Office websites has a complete list of candidates. http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk

Follow Timothy Barnes on Twitter @timothy_barnes

It is simple: we cannot allow the offensive and malicious Ken Livingstone back into City Hall

Craig Barrett 11.39am

Polls polls polls! "Boris lead narrows!" "Ken less popular than his party!" "Boris more popular than Tories!" "Only 12% of people believe that Ken is honest!"

While opinion polling has become much more sophisticated, anyone who watched the 1992 general election coverage on Easter Monday would know that only one poll matters: when you enter your booth and wield your pencil (unless you live in Tower Hamlets, of course).

With just one week to go until the election for London’s mayor, the current polling serves only to allow campaigners to twist and spin to whatever advantage possible and to remind people (like me) that we should be doing more to help.

I feel a bit sorry in some ways for the London Labour party. They have had a candidate forced on them who seems to owe no loyalty to them barring the right to campaign under their banner and deploy their activists for his own ends.

Had Labour picked someone else, Mr Livingstone, who believes the mayoralty his divine right, would have run as an independent candidate as he did in 2000.

Mr Livingstone’s campaign is a goulash of undeliverable policies, bold but inaccurate pronouncements about his Tory opponent, and craft attempts to shift the media’s focus away from his own activities. It is not so much that Mr Livingstone is a stranger to the truth, it is more that lying and smoke-screens come easier to him.

To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that he has no power to restore the EMA, or that the TfL ‘cash mountain’ is intended for investment rather than fare giveaways. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that the only experience he has to validate his comments on Boris Johnson’s tax affairs comes from his own hypocritical tax avoidance. To Mr Livingstone, it matters not that what spews from his mouth is offensive to one group of Londoners or another.

Mr Livingstone has given us no compelling reasons to vote for him; no policies on which any Londoner can be certain of his delivering. His crony-aplenty, wasteful record in City Hall speaks for itself.

Contrast that figure with Boris Johnson, who has actually delivered on his promises - whether policing, sustainable housing, tax freezes and others - and whose plans are both costed and practical.

But above all else, consider two vital points. First, I am not old enough to remember Mr Livingstone’s reign as leader of the Greater London Council but I know enough to understand it for what it was: a publicly funded one man crusade of self-justification, with money poured down the drain to embarrass Mrs Thatcher’s government or to challenge its actions in the courts.

The Mayor of London must speak for the city with an independent voice, but they must also be able to co-operate with central government to ensure the best for the city. For at least the first three years of the next mayor’s tenure there will be a Conservative politician in 10 Downing Street and while Mr Johnson and Mr Cameron may not be close personally, they do at least have a mutual understanding and interest.

Boris Johnson is a doughty fighter who has regularly exercised his inherent independence to seek the best for London. Mr Livingstone’s egomania and pathological hatred of the Tories will mean that were he to be elected next week, it would be the start of at least three years of pitched battles on meaningless fronts, all paid for by London’s rate payers.

Second, and perhaps most important, Mr Livingstone’s public utterances over the past few months demonstrate the type of man he is.

Whether suggesting that a councillor in Hammersmith & Fulham ought to “burn in hell…and…flesh be flayed for demons for all eternity”; whether suggesting that gay bankers in the Middle East could be mutilated; whether suggesting that London’s Jewish population is too rich to vote Labour; or whether simply another cheap insult at a critic, Mr Livingstone appears oblivious to the effect of his own words.

It is not good enough for the Labour party to say “Ken is just being Ken”, or words to that effect. Mr Livingstone is no Jed Bartlet, and the fact that many in the Labour party are doing their best to distance themselves from their own candidate shows the whole strategy is a farce.

In a few months, the eyes of the world will be on London and other cities around the country as Britain hosts the Olympic & Paralympic Games. Boris Johnson may be gaffe-prone but unlike Mr Livingstone his gaffes are rarely offensive and certainly not malicious. We in this great and historic capital city cannot afford to have as our mayor a man who appears to set his stall deliberately to offend others.

For this reason, above all others, I urge you to back Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Follow Craig on Twitter @mrsteeduk

Is it time to review government policy on drugs?

Alexander Pannett 11.15am

The fecund lands of Latin America have always attracted interest in their abundant resources.

From mines to agriculture, the region is particularly rich with potential for human development.

In recent decades, the coca leaf has been one of the more infamous products to have dominated the region’s trade. Used as a constituent of Bolivian tea, as well as a mild, traditional stimulant when chewed, it is now most widely used for producing cocaine.

Consequently, the USA has insisted that the coca leaf’s cultivation be banned, which has antagonised Bolivians who see the use of the coca leaf as an important part of their national identity. At the same time, demand from America and the wider West for cocaine has soared. This has driven cultivation and the huge profits it generates into the arms of organised crime.

For four decades, the “War on Drugs” has been fought by the USA and its allies against organised crime’s stranglehold of the illegal drugs industry. There has been only limited success in tackling the production of illegal drugs.

Where one area has its production cut through action by the authorities, production increases in other areas to compensate.  The $8 billion Plan Colombia reduced coca production there by 65 per cent, while production increased 40 per cent in Peru and doubled in Bolivia.

However, the biggest failure of the war on drugs is its inability to reduce the soaring demand in rich consumer nations such as the US. It is this demand, and the huge profits, that fuels production and gives organised crime the resources and firepower to intimidate and corrupt law enforcement agencies.

The more punitive and aggressive governments act in their approach to drug enforcement, the more violent and ambitious the drug cartels become. In Mexico, it is estimated that as many as 50,000 people have died as result of the ongoing government war against the drug cartels.

The failures and escalating violence of the drug wars has started calls by Latin American governments of a major re-think of the strategy behind drug enforcement. President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia has proposed the establishment of a taskforce of experts, economists and academics to analyse the realities of global drug addiction, trafficking and profiteering.

Other leaders have been more forward and called for the legalisation of drugs. It is also not just the more liberal-minded who are calling for an end to the drug wars. Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina, a general during the country’s “dirty war”, came to power promising an “iron fist” against drug consumers. He recently called the war on drugs a failure and argued that “consumption and production should be legalised” within certain limits.

There certainly seems to be much benefit in re-casting drugs as a social problem of dependency on stimulants rather than a criminal concern. This is the approach that is taken with alcohol and cigarettes, the most popular legalised drugs in society.

Regulation of drugs would raise quality, removing dangerous products from the streets. It would also lower prices and raise tax revenues that would pay for the health and social services needed to provide support to those suffering from drug abuse.

Consumers could still be required to be a certain age - 18, say - before they could purchase drugs (just as with alcohol); advertising would be banned (as with tobacco); drug-driving would remain illegal; and the law relating to liability whilst intoxicated would remain the same.

Substances could also remain banned if they are deemed to be above a certain addiction threshold. This would encourage legal drug producers to concentrate on creating the stimulating rather than addictive effects of drugs.

The negative side of legalisation is that it would likely lead to higher use as drugs would become more available. This would likely lead to higher numbers of drug-related health issues in society. When prohibition was introduced into the United States in the 1920s it reduced alcohol-related illnesses dramatically. As the monetary cost of drinking tripled, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver declined by a third. This improvement in health, however, hid and fed rampant criminality and a dis-respect for the law by all sections of society.

The law must protect us from other humans but, concerning our own bodies we have seen progressive strides, from abortion to sexual freedoms, in allowing humans the choice to do what they will with their own selves. Considering both the law and society already accept the right of humans to intoxicate themselves through alcohol, tobacco, coffee and other legal stimulants, it may be time to accept other drugs onto this list.

It would be naive to assume that the vast death toll and social cost of drugs in the Americas will not soon reach Europe. In many deprived areas it already has. To pre-empt such a social disaster we should respond to the call of Latin American governments and review our own government policy and attitudes towards drugs.

A drug-free utopia, after all, is a fantasy we could never achieve naturally.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

Let’s make restorative justice a reality in 2012

Robert Buckland MP 2.53pm

Having worked for many years in the criminal justice system, prosecuting and defending in criminal cases, I am acutely aware that the trial process does not - and cannot - address the problems faced by victims of crime.

Since my election to Parliament in 2010, I have taken an increasing interest in restorative justice and how it can play a bigger role in the criminal justice system in the UK. Restorative justice can help turn lives around for the offenders and aid the healing process among victims of crime.

Restorative justice allows a victim of a crime and the offender to meet face-to-face, enabling both of them to play a part in finding a positive way forward. The practice, already being used across England and Wales in our schools, workplaces and in parts of the criminal justice system, can empower victims and communities to come to terms with their trauma and may also help to reduce crime by making offenders understand the impact of their actions.

In the immediate aftermath of the summer riots up and down the country last year, it was clear that far too many of those involved in the rioting and looting were young people.

In the debate held following the recall of Parliament, I encouraged the need for making those responsible come face to face up with the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done. I suggested this to be a good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.

I was very pleased to be part of an inspirational meeting held at the Pilgrim Centre in Swindon one Friday evening in November last year, organised by my local Quaker group.

Quakers are committed to working for peace and justice through nonviolent social change. Quakers seek to practice peace at all levels, whether being active in disarmament or promoting mediation among children.

It was an excellent evening and I was pleased to see that there are many local people in Swindon, in the Council, in schools, in church groups and the police who are committed to restorative justice. We all agreed that there were excellent examples of restorative justice methods being used in Swindon by the police and the Youth Offending Team, and that more work should be done to spread its use.

In the House of Commons, I asked Nick Herbert MP, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, about the steps the Government is taking to increase the use of restorative justice. I took this opportunity to raise awareness of the effective use of restorative justice procedures in Swindon by both the youth offending team and the police, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution.

The Government has specific plans to support the invaluable work being done locally. The Minister assured me of the Government’s commitment to delivering more restorative justice across the system. The Minister agreed with me about the value of the work in Swindon in not only providing enhanced victim satisfaction, as victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process, but also in reducing reoffending rates.

Last month, I met Lizzie Nelson from the Restorative Justice Council. The work of the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police was highlighted; they have been doing some useful restorative justice work in response to the riots.

Greater Manchester Police as a Force is very pro-active in the use of restorative justice. In November 2011 they resolved over 600 crimes using these methods. While the restorative justice work has been slower than anticipated and the Force have not been able to resolve as many cases as they would have liked given this method, there is tentative progress being made, with one offender having agreed to a conference and another using a ‘shuttle method’ with a second offender. This can only help both the victims and also the offenders face up to the severity of the crimes committed.

The Government is considering how they can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder. Funded by the Ministry of Justice and implemented by the Restorative Justice Council (RJC), the Government has also recently introduced a register that lists all qualified practitioners of restorative justice - a process where offenders meet their victims and hear about the pain they have caused.

The Government will also be piloting new Neighbourhood Justice Panels, where local residents, properly trained and with advice and support, will be able to bring victims and wrongdoers together to deal with local problems in a way that gives them a real say in the outcomes for their communities. I am delighted to say that Swindon will be one of the pilot areas.

The great thing about restorative justice is that victims are never forced to go through the restorative justice process. The wish to meet the offender has to be led by the victims themselves. Currently many victims of crime who want to meet and confront their offender have to fight very hard against entrenched practices in some of the agencies that purport to offer welfare. I am keen for Swindon to be used as a beacon for restorative justice practices and am pleased that the Swindon Youth Offending Team and the Neighbourhood Team are already well engaged in these practices.

I believe that momentum is starting to build around restorative justice issues. Between November 2011 and February 2012, there was media coverage of restorative justice issues that almost reached 40 million people. An ICM poll, commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust, showed that 88 per cent of the public felt that a restorative approach was an appropriate response to the UK riots. Books such as Belinda Hopkins’ The Restorative Classroom show how thinking on restorative practice in schools can make a difference.

In conclusion, it is about all of us, you and me, and how as a society we work together to tackle the problems and conflicts that we face. Let’s make this vision more of a reality in 2012.

Robert Buckland was elected MP for South Swindon in May 2010.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertBuckland

Boris Johnson and the Angel in the Marble

David Cowan 10.15am

Boris Johnson is the darling of the Tory grassroots. From the pulpit of his Telegraph column he has hurled bread to his Tory base. His support for tax cuts, higher police numbers and his stance on Europe reveal a populist streak. He has earned the affection of ordinary Tory voters in a way no other Conservative politician, including David Cameron, has managed.

That is not to say Boris Johnson is a Tory ideologue. He is a very much a Tory pragmatist who has tried to appeal to the liberal metropolitan London electorate with substantial increases in the London Living Wage, criticism of housing benefit reform, and support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Appealing to the outer suburbs will not be sufficient for a successful re-election campaign. Getting out the vote will be his first priority and that means he has to appeal to a very broad range of people.

This approach has risked making attempts to identify Boris Johnson’s political philosophy like nailing jelly to the wall, but his appeal to the traditional Tory base and the wider liberal metropolitan electorate has been reconciled by the man himself:

“I’m a one-nation Tory. There is a duty on the part of the rich to the poor and to the needy, but you are not going to help people express that duty and satisfy it if you punish them fiscally so viciously that they leave this city and this country. I want London to be a competitive, dynamic place to come to work.”

This is reflected in his impressive record as Mayor (see my earlier blog here), with greater investment in public infrastructure, falling crime rates, and the freezing of council tax. But Boris seems to lack a singular, large achievement that people can easily identify.

By contrast, Ken Livingstone has developed his own narrative by attempting to transform the Mayoral Election into a referendum on ‘Osbornomics’.

Boris Johnson’s personal popularity and impressive record may be enough to secure a second victory but it will do very little for the Conservatives in London. Polling puts the party well behind Labour. This may well mean that the Conservatives will lose the London Assembly but, more seriously, it will also mean a lack of support in the London constituencies that are needed to win the next General Election in 2015, such as Hammersmith.

Boris Johnson must use his time in power to see the Conservative voter in the London electorate as a sculptor sees “the angel in the marble”, as the Times claimed Benjamin Disraeli once did. There are limitations to the Mayor’s powers, but the key to establishing a wider Tory base could lie in his ‘One Nation’ vision.

One of the basic foundations of ‘One Nation’ conservatism has been the ‘property-owning democracy’, as popularised by Anthony Eden and first made a reality by Harold Macmillan’s ambitious 1950s housing programme. Boris Johnson could take this one step further by establishing a new generation of property-owners, and therefore more likely to vote Tory, by implementing a Right to Own scheme, as proposed by five Conservative MPs in ‘After the Coalition’.

Under the Right to Own scheme tenants of social housing would have an automatic share in the equity of the property which they could then choose to sell onto the open market. The equity owned by the tenant would then be used to help pay for a new private property and thus begin to climb the private property ladder. The rest of the money from the sale of the property would then go to the new ‘mayoral development corporations’, which will replace the London Development Agency, and be invested into new modern social housing to meet ever increasing demand in London. This would drive down housing prices and open up access to private property in London’s deprived areas, thus increasing the number of property-owners in London.

Coverage of this year’s mayoral election will inevitably focus the personalities of Boris and Ken. But Conservatives cannot lose sight of the long-term future of the party in London. A new generation of homeowners, supported by efficient infrastructure, effective policing and a prudent City Hall would provide a new Tory base in London from which to secure an overall majority in 2015.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

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'Tough on crime'? An asinine soundbite if there ever was one

Oliver Harvey 7.45am

Ken Clarke’s vital reforms to Britain’s justice system are in danger of being permanently sidelined.

Earlier this year, the Justice Secretary was forced to drop his plea bargaining reforms after describing some rape cases as ‘less serious’ than others during a BBC radio interview. Then August’s appalling series of riots seemed to have firmly ruled out any possibility of sentencing reform, prison population reduction or the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ seeing the light of day.

Earlier this month, the repeal of greater sentencing powers for magistrates - introduced towards the end of the last Labour government - dropped out of the Legal Aid, Punishment and Sentencing of Offenders Bill (Lapso) after it was opposed by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

None of this, however, has altered the arguments for justice reform. Unless we are to continue living with public disorder and criminality at least part of the solution must be a proactive approach to rehabilitation and a focus on non-custodial sentences.

Britain has one of the highest prison populations in the world, currently edging towards the 100,000 mark and almost doubling over the last fifteen years. This has been credited by successive Home Secretaries from Conservative and Labour governments as the main cause of falling crime rates.

In fact, this suspicious cross-party consensus tells us that the views of Home Secretaries move in lockstep with the police. Different metrics measure different crime rates in different ways. A cleaner statistic is this: over half of Britain’s current offenders have already served custodial sentences.

We are operating, at a colossal cost to taxpayers, a revolving door for criminals to return to communities and to reoffend, with all the social and economic costs that entails.

One response with considerable public appeal is simply to lock offenders up for longer. An arch proponent of this idea is Peter Hitchens, with whom to converse on the subject is to tread the pages of a Charles Dicken’s novel.

While superficially attractive, it is simpleton’s logic. There is a fair case to be made for longer sentences for heinous crimes (murder, rape, firearms offences), but jailing burglars for decades both bears the hallmarks of an authoritarian regime and is a spectacular waste of money when alternatives are considered.

First, expand and improve the use of non-custodial sentences and put more emphasis on rehabilitation. As Ken Clarke has argued, non-custodial sentences must be made more ‘demanding,’ with tougher terms, more visible punishments and higher touch probation.

Punishing first time offenders and those convicted of relatively minor offences within the community is sensible as it prevents the ‘career criminalisation’ process which contact with hardened criminals in jail provides, and it gives an opportunity to offenders to get their life back on track.

Uncomfortable as it may be for some to admit it, an alarming proportion (90 per cent) of offenders have mental health problems or suffered childhood abuse. Often a lifetime of crime can be preventable by appropriate early intervention.

Second, the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ must be made to work. Literacy programmes, a ‘working week’ for prisoners and lowering the barriers for ex-cons to find work are part of the solution. Enlightened prison regimes can have spectacular results, but too often the success of rehabilitation is left to the inclination and resources of individual prison governors.

As Paddy Scriven, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association, has pointed out, rehabilitation is most successful with prisoners on longer jail terms. Short custodial sentences can have the effect of exposing minor offenders to hardened criminals, cutting them off from their communities while offering their victims only the briefest of respites. Short sentences are also expensive. In the vast majority of cases they should be scrapped, while resources should be concentrated on prisoners serving terms greater than one year.

Last year’s Green Paper - Breaking the Cycle - addressed many of these points. There is a broad consensus among prison governors and probation officers, a surprising fact considering Ken Clarke’s aim to cut substantially the prison budget.

Yet in the rush for politicians to be seen as ‘tough on crime,’ an asinine soundbite if there ever was one, the opportunity to get our justice system working again is slipping away.

The arguments in favour of capital punishment are brutal, flawed and abhorrent

Jack Blackburn 6.03am

The arguments about capital punishment are not simple. Though many of us, on both sides of the debate, would like to think that they are, the fact is that they are complex and cover a number of areas. The issues can be separated into two basic groups: moral concerns and practical concerns.

I happen to think that it is hypocritical and morally wrong for the state to have the power to kill criminals. Fundamentally, I believe that no one - neither the state nor individuals -should have the power to kill unless there is no reasonable alternative. Life imprisonment is a reasonable alternative to the death penalty. Furthermore, I do not believe that the cathartic emotions experienced by those who witness the death of a criminal are moral or to do with justice, but are barbaric and vengeful feelings which have no place in a civilised system of punishment.

The moral debates will continue to rage, but the far more pressing concerns at the moment, with capital punishment hitting the headlines, are the ill-conceived assumptions and downright falsehoods involved in the belief that the death penalty is a more practical form of punishment than its alternatives.

The main argument for the practicality of capital punishment is that it is a more effective deterrent than life imprisonment for capital crimes. This has been argued for on a statistical basis. The pro-capital punishment advocate may point to the US, which saw a rise in murder rates in the years when the ultimate sentence was suspended. The abolitionist, on the other hand, can point to Canada, which saw murder rates fall dramatically after it did away with its old rope. The statistics prove nothing either way.

However, maybe it makes sense that I will be less inclined to commit a capital crime if my life may be on the line than if it is not? Such is the rhetorical claim of the pro-capital punishment advocate, but it doesn’t stand up to closer examination.

Firstly, many murders are crimes of passion, where all thought is by-passed. As such, no punishment deters in those cases. Secondly, how many people would actually decide not to commit a murder because they may lose their life entirely rather than spend the whole of it behind bars? To myself, there’s no distinction between the two at all. The permanent loss of my freedom and ability to achieve anything of worth with my life would be as terrible (if not worse) than a death sentence. Furthermore, I find it hard to conceive of a thought-process where anyone would be prevented by the thought of capital punishment more than life imprisonment as both are such severe and terrifying punishments.

The most pathetic argument employed in favour of capital punishment is the one which points to persons on parole or who have been released and have gone on to kill again. If only they themselves had been killed, then the death count would be the same, just differently distributed, is the actual logic of the eventual argument arising from this.

Whilst I would argue for tighter controls on the releasing of capital criminals, I must also hold to my belief that the penal system is supposed to reform and grant another chance to its prisoners where appropriate. Some killers do earn the right to be released and most do not re-offend. In the unfortunate instances when re-offending occurs, the responsibility lies solely with the criminal. We cannot punish for crimes which theoretically might be committed in the future.

Many will point to the cost of maintaining these criminals and say that it is beyond galling that we pay for the upkeep of people beyond reform. I am as peeved about taxpayers having to pay for the incarceration of Levi Bellfield, the killer of Milly Dowler, as I was about Elliot Morley, the former Labour MP convicted of expenses fraud. But the price of justice must be paid and it is a price worth paying. Furthermore, I still see no reason why we should take lives to save cash. That is an abhorrent view.

The final practical problem with capital punishment is the most telling. Miscarriages of justice will happen and the death penalty will kill innocent people. So, I ask the supporters of capital punishment, how is even one innocent life taken by the state acceptable? How many innocent lives is the lust for vengeance worth? What worth is a justice system which can coolly commit the worst injustice, namely the killing of innocents?

These questions remain unanswered by the proponents of the death penalty. Their arguments are brutal, flawed and, worst of all, willing to view injustice as an occupational hazard.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA