WHEN the expert committee set up by the World Council of Churches sent its report to the Government on penal reform one of its recommendations was that "violent offenders should be detained indefinitely until it is safe to release them". This suggestion pinpointed not only the growing concern about crimes of violence but also the inability of experts to come up with any other sort of answer.
It is in one sense an acceptance of defeat; it means that the best thing we can think of as a means of protecting society is to lock the thug away where he can do less harm. The real problem still remains--that of curbing the violence before it has become a fact.
As one step the Home Secretary is going to make it more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms but the gunman is seldom a first offender and he is not likely to be greatly deterred by the threat of imprisonment for having in his possession an unlicensed weapon. And guns, of course, are not the only weapons of violence.
Advocates of the return of corporal punishment for crimes of violence are pressing their claims for a change in the law but again one comes face to face with the fact that the violent man, faced with arrest, is unlikely to take too seriously the prospects of a few strokes of the birch if that is all which stands between prison and freedom.
What is surprising, in view of the concern being expressed in official quarters is that more drastic steps are not being taken against the whole cult of violence as being propagated by television. There can be no denying that television is a great persuader and if we accept that television is capable of influencing people for good (as the television companies would claim) it is also capable of influencing some of its audience for bad.
One would not want to bar from the small screen the occasional Western or crime play. Throughout months of the year, however, it is simply not possible to go through a single night's viewing without having one or two programmes of a violent nature. Murder is not an everyday occurrence in real life; there is no reason why it should be in our television diet.
We do not suggest that this would be the answer to the Home Secretary's problems so far as law-breaking in Britain is concerned. But a little less violence on television would produce a healthier climate in which other methods might have a better chance of success.
Apart from that, it would also make for better television.