The Godfather Part II will always have its fans, of course, but, as any true aficionado of the silver screen agrees, Paddington 2 is, undeniably, indisputably, the best sequel ever.
The scenes when our little ursine hero is wrongly incarcerated are particularly affecting as he placates Knuckles McGinty, a blood-curdling prison cook, with his recipe for marmalade sandwiches.
Even fans of the diminutive Peruvian bear would, however, admit the movie may not be the most realistic account of life behind bars. For that, Time, the BBC’s recent three-part drama, is probably a better bet. Relentless and unflinching, it is the opposite of feelgood TV but its depiction of prison as a dismal depository for men broken by drugs and drink, poverty, abuse, violence, and circumstance, is as harrowing as it is accurate.
Diagnosed or not, mental ill-health is everywhere inside and it is making no excuse for criminals or suggesting their crimes should go unpunished, to ask the point of it all? Some of these men are a threat to the public but most are not, so what exactly do we gain by keeping them off the streets for a bit before releasing them to resume lives of chaos and crime.
Is it any wonder that so many of those actually working in Scotland’s criminal justice system believe prisons do not need gates but revolving doors. Would some of the millions spent on incarceration not be better spent trying to do something that might, just might, give offenders a stable foundation to build better, straighter lives?
What goes for men goes double for women. Many, if not most, if not nearly all, women who end up behind bars in Scotland have been shattered on the rocks of addiction and mental ill-health of one form or another. They are in prison because they have committed crime but many need psychiatric care not incarceration.
Why, as we report today, one in four of the women locked up in Scotland is still to face trial when many will not be given a custodial sentence when their case finally winds to court is anyone’s guess. It is not because we have a particularly draconian justice system – at least that would suggest a rational plan of action and reaction – it is simply dysfunction. A signal of a system that is founded on process not people; that does it this way because it’s always been done this way; that, for years and years, despite all ministers’ warm words, has failed to properly invest in effective community services capable of combining punishment with rehabilitation; that simply has nowhere to send these women but jail.
Sacro’s Shine, whose sterling work we also highlight today, offers help to women released from prison to give them time to take a breath, a chance to regroup. It is a practical, life-changing support service but there should be so many more like it.
If a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners, it can be better judged on what is done to stop them being imprisoned in the first place. Scotland could, and must, do more.
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