England’s most senior judge has renewed his call for shorter prison sentences and warned that Britain’s jails risk filling up with “geriatric lifers”. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,,2030116,00.html)
In a speech yesterday at the University of Birmingham, the lord chief justice Lord Phillips warned that mandatory life sentences were contributing to the serious overcrowding problem in Britain’s prisons. “In 30 years’ time, the prisons will be full of geriatric lifers,” he warned.
Okay, so Phillips is plainly a drippy liberal, whining about 18th century punishments like flogging, branding and using the stocks. But anyone with half a brain (as well as those of us who are lucky enough to have a whole one) can see that if we keep banging people up for ever, in a few decades the jails are going to be full of feeble old codgers waiting, not for a parole hearing, but for a visit by the grim reaper.
Yes, we’re talking about bad people – cold-blooded murderers and the like. But tell me, what’s the point of keeping in prison some guy who’s, say, 75 years old and who might live another 10 years if not more? After all, medical science is extending everyone’s life expectancy, even that of brutal killers. Some feeble bloke in his 70s is unlikely to pose much of a risk to society. So why not kick his wrinkled ass out on the street and free up his cell for a more youthful crim?
I know that some old-aged murderers will still be capable of foul crimes. And I’m not suggesting that real bad folks should be released unrepentant just because they’re old. Each case would need looking at on its merits, of course. But keeping ancient criminals in prison just because they committed a crime 40 years before seems to me too much like looking for vengeance. And that’s about as old-fashioned as branding, flogging and using the stocks…