Arguing about prisons

By Simon Barrow
March 9, 2007

Anne Atkins is talking a lot of sense about prisons, and why they don't work.

I write this while living through one of the perils of the at-home writer: namely, daytime TV. Yes, I confess it. I watch 'Richard and Judy' on Channel 4 - a reality check, of sorts. I know, I should get out more...

Anyway, yesterday R&J gave a ludicrous amount of space to two climate change deniers, which was more than a little depressing. Thankfully they have Al Gore on next week. Really.

Today the talking point, which I only caught the tail end of, was about prisons. And there was Anne Atkins, the Telegraph's own favourite agony aunt and "vicar's wife", making some very solid points about how fruitless it is to lock up car thieves, why community punishment remedies are a viable alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offences, and how prisons frequently end up as schools for crime and lodgings for repeat offenders.

There was an interesting gender divide on this. Richard Madeley, who doesn't let much past his wounded ego, took a predictable "bang 'em up if they dare to mess with my car" approach. Even if the point had nothing to do with cars, or him. And the other male guest - a tabloid commentator, whose name eludes me - adopted a strictly ad hominem stance. He really seemed to think that yelling "nonsense" was an argument, and that "these women" (Anne had an ally) must just be being typically illogical if they didn't agree with his 'throw away the key' philosophy.

Anyway, good on Anne. There are many things I'd disagree with her on. But on this one she's talking sense and challenging a good deal of entrenched prejudice in front of a near primetime audience.

Prisons and restorative justice is, of course, an area on which Ekklesia is doing some research at the moment.

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