Having recently completed the Three Peaks Challenge I consider myself an expert on punishment. Aside from the physical exertion, the challenge forced me to spend around 48 hours in close contact with two friends. It would not be unfair to say that some of the conditions Gordon Ramsay saw when he visited HMP Brixton were luxurious in comparison. For starters, they are at least dry.
Titled ‘Gordon Behind Bars’ and available on 4OD, the series follows TV Chef Gordon Ramsay on his mission to set up a food business within Brixton prison and get prisoners to pay something back into the system. For some viewers, the conditions found within HMP Brixton will no doubt have raised a few eyebrows. Complete with televisions, PlayStations and personal items some cells are comparable to the average teenager’s bedroom.
Indeed, one prisoner arrogantly told Gordon that “it’s an easier life in jail than it is outside. In here you’ve got everything done for you.” Given five meal choices each day, access to taxpayer funded degree courses and a plethora of other rehabilitation options the contrast with the thousands of students taking out massive loans for higher education study and living in relative poverty is an obvious one.
It is clear that I am not an expert with regards to the issue of whether prisoners should be shown the cooler or the path to rehabilitation. Whilst my gut tells me that prisoners should learn to deal with the consequences of their actions and be fed no more than stale bread and water, the reality of the situation is that some people do genuinely need help. Often victims of their surroundings, it is a well-known fact that more than 50% of all crime is committed by reoffenders. Aside from the emotional impact upon the victims of crime it must be noted that this constant reoffending is costing the taxpayer a fortune. When it is considered that this fortune is actually £2 billion a year (or £38 000 per prisoner per year) any new attempts to reduce the reoffending rate should not be scoffed at as the system is clearly currently failing.
Of course, most victims of crime are not interested in the offender’s emotional stability. For many, even the most extreme implementation of Sharia law would be too soft, this especially true for the majority of the British population when the offender is identified to be a City of London investment banker or hedge fund manager. Whilst ‘banker-bashing’ is a recent, popular and potentially destructive national pastime, there is a growing fear that a ‘two-tier’ justice system is developing; one in which the poor are doomed to a life of prison, crime and reoffending whereas the wealthy are able to dodge severe punishment through political connections and the hiring of ludicrously expensive lawyers.
This was a point stressed by John Lydon on BBC Question Time only a few weeks ago. Arguing that wealthy bankers, corrupt politicians and caviar guzzling chief executives were above the reach of the law, Lydon clumsily concluded the mood of much of the nation. And despite his desperate attempt to incite a revolution and appeal to the masses, Lydon does have a valid argument which can now be investigated whilst public attention is temporarily refocused upon the London Olympics.
Take for instance the recent LIBOR banking scandal. Having taken the Western financial world by storm, estimated to have caused $1.5 trillion damage and increased misery to millions of ordinary mortgage payers the total theft is likely to be the largest fraud operation ever seen within the market to date. And as of the 30th July 2012, not one person has been arrested. Aside from the Chief Executive of Barclays, Bob Diamond, resigning and being asked to appear before the Treasury Select Committee on July 4th, the only other punishment has been a record breaking fine imposed by regulators in both the United Kingdom and United States. Whilst severe, the £290 million fine is only a fraction of the £4.2 billion profits that Barclays has made so far this year.
Conversely, the action taken against those at the other end of the spectrum is far more severe in comparison. After stealing £3.50 worth of bottled water during the London riots in the summer of 2011 electrical engineering student Nicolas Robinson was jailed for six months. Whilst his actions are impossible to defend, the ‘two-tier’ system Lydon refers to could not be more obvious. Should the law be applied equally Bob Diamond, half the Barclays board and several key bankers involved in the scandal would be serving lifetime sentences within a maximum security prison.
Despite the above, this article should in no way be seen as promoting proletarian uprising. Infact I suspect that both wealthy and poor criminals have more things in common than a desire to act dishonestly. Whilst interviewing one of the prisoners in HMP Brixton, inmate Lawrence Gibbons claimed that he didn’t care ‘about any of the victims’ in any of the cases he had been involved in throughout his 45 year existence.
What are the odds that Bob Diamond feels the same?