On the 29th November 2019, the nation was shocked by yet another terror attack on London Bridge, but also moved by the courage of the actions of an ordinary man who took it upon himself to stop more innocents being killed. Even more shocking for many of us was the revelation that the perpetrator of this horrific crime had already been convicted for terrorism but had been released early.
Our government have since promised to endeavour to ensure such early releases for violent criminals would not happen again. They committed to end the automatic early release of prisoners; ensuring sentences are carried out in full for horrific crimes is a standard any citizen would demand of their criminal justice system.
Yet the legislation introduced does not end the early-release of such criminals; rather than being automatically released halfway through their sentence, criminals such as rapists and those convicted of grievous bodily harm or manslaughter must now serve two-thirds of their sentence.
Tragically, another horrific attack was carried out in London recently, committed again by an early-release prisoner, who had been in prison for the spreading of extremist hate material. Thankfully, no deaths resulted from the attack, other than of the terrorist, who was shot on-site. In the face of such attacks, the government must enact harder legislation.
Serving two-thirds of a sentence is not enough to satisfy justice; if a judge deems a sentence of ten years appropriate, ten years should be served. A life sentence should mean exactly that.
This article is not written with the intention of political point-scoring – that would be a shameful appropriation of a tragedy – but as a demand for true justice.
Rehabilitation is the fashionable word in modern justice, the Gucci to the Marks and Spencers’ punishment.
Indeed, I doubt many would disagree that the rehabilitation of criminals is an ideal outcome. However, in order for rehabilitation, punishment must first be satisfied – the two are inseparable. Rehabilitation is a two-way street; the criminal must be willing to repent, and the public must be willing to forgive.
Only those worthy of forgiveness will receive it and only those who have truly suffered for their crimes will be considered worthy. Any attempt to rehabilitate terrorists will inevitably fail if they are not seen to have suffered as they will never be able to re-join civil society. If the approach the government desires to take is that of rehabilitation, they must end the early release of those arrested for terror offences.
However, for some crimes, rehabilitation is not possible. Some things can never be forgotten or forgiven. Even if a murderer truly regrets their actions and wishes to make amends, how could the public ever look past their crimes, when they can never truly make amends for what they have done and when human society can never truly punish such a horrific crime to the full extent it deserves?
I won’t fault those wanting to believe in rehabilitation – the capacity to forgive is what makes us human, after all. But to dogmatically follow it as a matter of policy is to miss the fact that not all people can be rehabilitated or forgiven, at least in this life.
Forgiveness is an individual journey and can only be bestowed in this life by the victims, who are sadly all too often no longer with us. It is for this reason that, in relation to terrorists, rehabilitation should be abandoned, and only punishment focused on.
The criminal justice system cannot guarantee that someone’s soul can be saved, but it can guarantee that terrorists are punished for what they have done.
Longer sentences, served fully, are a step towards true justice. In the case of those despicable men and women who have carried out attacks, they should be kept in prison away from the public and behind bars for the rest of their lives. I would now argue the benefits of capital punishment, but that is perhaps more appropriately discussed at another time (or, indeed, on page sixteen!).
It is my view that for terror crimes, the government should look to pursue a new strategy – one tailored to tackling the spread of the ideas and hatred that radicalise those within our society, and that ensures the dangerous are kept off our streets for good.
Perhaps a system of open-ended sentences should be introduced for those convicted of terror-related offences, wherein a minimum sentence is imposed, but not a maximum; this ensures that for as long as these criminals are deemed to harbour extremist hate, they will not be able to act on it, and will only be able to re-join society once they have been ‘rehabilitated’, if indeed that is even possible.
Regrettably, the frightening reality remains that prisons continue to be a breeding ground for radicalisation, and any counter-terrorism strategy the government pursues must prioritise tackling this as a major urgency, as well as ensuring that the victims of terrorism are put first.
Photo by Fungai Tichawangana on Pixabay.