Huhne / Pryce: I just don’t see how ‘prison works’ for anyone here

by Stephen Tall on March 12, 2013

His crime was speeding then lying (and lying some more). Her crime was lying and self-immolating revenge. Last night they spent their first night in prison.

Few people will spare much sympathy for either Chris Huhne or Vicky Pryce. They are, as Mr Justice Sweeney said yesterday when sentencing the pair to eight months each, the architects of their own downfall. Though I also think it would take a particularly stony heart not to look at the ashen-faced photos of them, besieged by a mob-handed press as their humiliation is played out in real-time in the full glare of publicity, and not feel any sympathy at all. And if not for them, at least spare a thought for their kids.

Their shared crime, perverting the course of justice, has come at high cost. Not only to them and their family, but also to the taxpayer. It cost us over £150,000 to prosecute them. It would cost a further £100,000 to keep them in jail if they served their sentences in full. That’s an expensive way of making them an example that no-one (“however high and mighty” in the Prime Minister’s phrase) is above the law.

Do they pose a risk to others? Is there any chance of them re-offending? If you answer no to both those questions you have to ask whether jail is the right punishment, rather than hefty fines and lengthy community service.

Yes, they’re being treated consistently with others found guilty of the same offence. But that’s a reason to question our obsession with imprisonment-as-punishment rather than a justification in itself. And, by the way, that applies to all types of non-violent crime — not just the middle-class-professional-sort which seeks (as Huhne/Pryce did) to brazen out speeding offences. Their sentencing is just as disproportionate in its own way as was the jailing for four years of first-time offenders for posting messages about the 2011 riots on Facebook.

Prison works if your goal is to protect society from a threat or to offer justice to a victim. I don’t see how prison works here.

>> You can see what my LDV colleagues thought about it all in Caron’s post last night here.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.