Category Archives: criminal justice system (UK)

Why we read and re-read the doctor-essayist

Dalrymple is identified by an acute English journalist (also a skilled and powerful debater), Peter Hitchens, as

one of the greatest men of our age [second item in Hitchens’s 6th August 2017 column in the UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday].

For decades, Hitchens reminds us, Dalrymple

worked in a major British jail, listening to the excuses and self-justifications of people who had done terrible things to others, and to themselves.

Refusing to follow fashion,

and genuinely concerned for these often very sad characters, he treated them as adults, urging them to take responsibility for their actions instead of offering excuses for them. Many, who had come to despise authority, were glad to be up against someone they could not easily fool.

Hitchens’s guess is that many of those Dalrymple treated

benefited greatly from his tough-minded approach. He didn’t fill them with pills or substitute one drug for another. His observations of the way heroin abusers feign terrible discomfort, after arriving in prison and being deprived of their drug, is both funny and a badly needed corrective to conventional wisdom.

All this, Hitchens notes, is to be found in the Dalrymple collection The Knife Went In (2017).

The title, a quotation from an actual murderer, is an example of the way such people refuse to admit they had any part in the crimes they commit. The knife somehow got there and went into the victim, by itself. It is a series of short, gripping real-life stories in which he recounts his experiences with our broken, lying penal system with its fake prison sentences and its ridiculous form-filling as a substitute for action.

The book is mainly about prisons and crime, but, says Hitchens,

it tells a deep truth about the sort of society we have become. It is one in which almost nobody is, or wants to be, responsible for anything.

Hitchens concludes:

A future historian, a century hence, will learn more about 21st-century Britain from this book than from any official document.

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Laxity of the criminal justice system

Dalrymple points out that the murder of a policeman by Karim Cheurfi, a Muslim terrorist, on the Champs-Elysées is another illustration of

the laxity of the French (and British) criminal justice system — a laxity which demonstrates a corrosive lack of cultural self-confidence.

An article in the Paris newspaper the Monde, Dalrymple notes,

said that the case of Cheurfi was bound to reignite debate on the ‘laxity’ (sic) of the French criminal justice system. It is symptomatic of the problem that the word laxity appeared as ‘laxity’, as though juridical negligence were a wild allegation, a figment of someone’s febrile imagination.

Dalrymple notes that people like Cheurfi

view themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators. According to an acquaintance, Cheurfi believed that the police had ruined his life because they had been instrumental in the long imprisonment that had left him unable to marry or have children at the usual age. After all, at the time, he had only stolen a car with a gun in his possession, and if the police had left him alone, no one would have been hurt.

Lawyers’ employment scheme

Prison, English-style

Prison, English-style

The revolving door of the criminal justice system

Dalrymple says (from 0:45) that he disagrees with the idea that prison should be, as he puts it,

a kind of hospital for criminals. That means you are saying criminals are ill.

The purpose of prison should be

the reduction of crime in the population, and the protection of the rest of the population.

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

A little cannabis resin helps this British prisoner relax

The humanitarian theory of punishment is

very cruel. It is compatible both with ridiculous leniency and with revolting cruelty. If your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people.

Dalrymple points to the error

in thinking that prisons are there to reform people. It’s very good if they do — I have no objection — but that is not their purpose.

Most criminals, Dalrymple explains,

  • stop being criminal at the age of 35 to 39. In a sense they reform themselves
  • have done between five and 20 times as much as they have ever been accused of doing
A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

A pair of English convicts in high spirits during one of the occasional recreational riots

If you put these two things together, Dalrymple says,

it would be an argument for longer prison sentences rather than shorter ones. In the end this would reduce the number of prisoners rather than increase them, because often it’s a revolving door: they come out, they commit another crime. It’s a very good scheme of employment for lawyers.

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British prison

Prisoners take control of a wing of a British jail

HMP Birmingham

HMP Birmingham, site of a recent especially exuberant riot

screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-19-17-46

A convict lets off steam by smashing up the prison

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange

The Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange: if your theory is that punishment should be effective, it places no limits on what you can do to people

The CCTV state

Every Briton has his Boswell

Every Briton has his Boswell

There is no evidence, writes Dalrymple, that continual surveillance deters or reduces crime.

Why should it, when the convicted have so little to fear from the courts?

The surveillance, he points out,

is intended not to protect or deter, but to intimidate.

When you get out, I’m fucking coming to fucking get you, you cunt

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 09.02.47So said a man,

whose physiognomy and deportment proclaimed him a member of the criminal classes,

sitting next to Dalrymple in court. The man made the threat — perfectly audible to the people in the court — to the accused who was entering the dock (protected by bulletproof glass).

He repeated the threat several times, and stared menacingly at the accused. The accused, who was mentally subnormal, turned away in fright.

Although it was not necessary, since everyone had heard what the man next to him had said, Dalrymple drew the attention of court officials to his threatening activities.

The officials did nothing, apart from the court clerk telling the man to desist, which he did—but only when, a little later, the judge entered. I subsequently became the object of his menacing regard.

That he had committed a crime

in the very heart of the criminal justice system, in front of many credible witnesses who could testify against him, and that no punishment followed, emblematised the paralysis into which not just the criminal justice system but the entire public administration of Britain has fallen. Outside the courtroom door, police patrolled with submachine guns directed at a notional threat; inside, a man committed a common crime with impunity. It was almost as if the policemen were protecting him rather than the law-abiding public.

It is easy to imagine, writes Dalrymple, the emboldening effect of the man’s court experience.

What fear need he have of a system too feeble even to demand obedience within its supposedly hallowed portals? I, on the other hand, had to look around as I left the court, in case he should be loitering with intent. Only the peaceful and law-abiding fear the law in Britain today.