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July 21, 2006

I'm moaning. So what you gonna do - put me in prison?

So when I left the UK I vowed that I would never become one of those ex-pats lazily sitting in the sun moaning about everything that was wrong with the UK....

....so at the risk of being a complete hypocrite....

One of the odd things about being an ex-pat is that I still read all the British media, but somehow because I am not in the UK anymore I am not in the same 'bubble' that I used to live in, so certain things that seemed really obvious when I was in the UK, now look really odd from outside.

And one of them is the curious British obssession with locking people in prison.

On Thursday night it particularly struck me, because we had just watched "Let Him Have It" on DVD, when I turned on my phone for the news, and found that John Reid was going to be tougher on crime than ever before. Again. As every Home Office minister in my lifetime seems to have promised.

Just to put things in perspective - John Reid was announcing that at 8,000, the UK was going to build enough new prison spaces to house the entire prison population of Greece.

Now the UK has five times the population of Greece, but at around 80,000, the UK has ten times as many people in prison as Greece. (Admittedly this figure is helped by the fact that our prisoners regularly escape from jail here - often in daring SAS style helicopter raids, but that is by-the-by).

Since 1997 the average length of a prison sentence in the UK has risen from 20 months to 27 months. Yet still the press screams for more people in prison, for longer, with no early release or hope of parole.

Suddenly from outside the country the spell is broken - and it sounds like what the government was actually saying this week was "For years we have been spending lots of taxpayers money on keeping more people in prison for even longer. And crime isn't going down. So, at further expense to the taxpayer, we are going to do more of the thing that hasn't worked so far".

Or maybe I am just a woolly liberal lazy ex-pat in the sun moaning about everything back "home"... :-0

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