by Hugh Kay
THE 30-year "life" sen
tences proposed for the Kray brothers prompted the usual outbursts. What was the use of maintaining men as vegetables at huge public expense, not to mention the wear and tear on the nervy "screws" who have to guard them? No one. however, proposed an alternative answer.
No one, that is, but Merfyn Turner, whose Norman House experiment for homeless discharged prisoners is very well known to CATHOLIC HERALD readers and has earned him an international reputation.
It was Turner who, possibly more than anyone else, helped the demise of the system of preventive detention which worked such havoc in the 1950s. His reflective Welsh accents reached out from the witness-box of the former Court of Criminal Appeal to Whitehall, and were heard in the judges' sentencing conferences.
Few men have worked at closer quarters with men re]eased after long-term sentences, and his home in Highgate quickly became a sustaining reference point for rudderless souls. (He has, of course, the rarest of wives, and her share in the work has been crucial. Likewise their five small children's.) Turner proceeds from the premise that the causes of crime are sociological. To remove these, he argues, would call for a social revolution, and society is not ready for it. But something could meanwhile be done to make the treatment of offenders more productive, both for their own redemption and for that society in whose name they are punished.
It is not a question of finding justification for locking men up because we cannot think of alternative courses. What we have to do is to give some force and meaning to the boast of half a century and more that prison is not for punishment but for training and rehabilitation.
It was left to the barren Mountbatten report to admit that all our closed prisons are really concerned to do is to "protect the public." Actually they do nothing of the kind. Against the vast majority of the 30.000 men "in the nick" the public needs no protection at all; they are just not dangerous.
As to the need to protect society in a more meaningful way by long-term reclamation, Turner points out:
"'it used to be said that 80 per cent of the men sent to prison for the first time did not return. If the present trends continue, in ten years' time our prisons will contain 80 per cent of men who have been inside them before."
It is reckoned that between a third and a half of our prison population are inadequate personalities. The most intractable problem is that of the permanent inadequate.
Such men, under the preventive detention system, could be sent to prison for many years because of one too many minor crimes, involving no question of violence. What their crimes revealed was not ill will but sheer incompetence in the ordinary affairs of life. An enlightened Appeal Judge, about to release such a man, once said: "The trouble with you is, you are too inadequate even to commit a crime successfully."
There are inadequates who may need custodial training with subsequent dictation as to where they should live and work. Others need long-term support in special communities. Others again can he dealt with in free society.
Finally. there are the aggressive offenders, a very small proportion, whose behaviour causes real and serious injury to the public. Whether the offender is inadequate or aggressive, prison will rarely act as a deterrent, if only because those who commit crimes have no intention of being caught (apart from those who subconsciously seek to return to the shelter of a life which
exacts no decisions from them).
Turner prescribes four types of sentence. Two are custodial, two are not. Three are for inadequates, one is for the aggressive. Offenders who are neither inadequate nor aggressive, and whose crimes are fairly minor, should be dealt with by suspended sentences and various forms of supervision. The four types are set out in the adjacent chart.
(I am not sure what Turner would do with, say. the defaulting stockbroker whose defalcations run into thousands. How far can such men rate as inadequates? Should they be included in the first type of custodial sentence?)
CUSTODIAL SENTENCES Simple imprisonment for five years, with the possibility of parole after one year, would be imposed on inadequates who are not psychotic or psychopathic yet "fail to find a secure place in an accepted pattern of social life and. having little capacity for making satisfactory personal relationships, ex press themselves through crime, alcoholism, personal eccentricities or vagrancy." These can be "trained, supported and supervised into useful citizenship."
The sentence would be served in small farm colonies, with modern agricultural methods giving the men an extensive mechanical knowledge. The communities would not exceed 30 men each. If released before the end of the sentence, they would be sent to a designated neighbourhood to apply their newly-found training either in the employ of private farmers or on one of a group of farms attached to the original colony,
These small farms would be rented to small teams of conditionally released inadequates who would he supervised, technically and personally, by carefully chosen farm managers. After the full five years, they would be free.
Many might wish to stay, and it might be a help to encourage dependants — especially where the offender has small children — to move into the neighbourhood of the colony from the start. After all, the family is involved in the father's inadequacy and often needs to be included in the rehabilitation programme.
Preventive custody for 10 years, with the possibility of release after three years, would be imposed on the really aggressive offender. It would protect society but would also work for a gradual return of the prisoner to normal living. The 10 years could be extended if necessary, but experience in other countries shows that a man who really needs more than 10 years ought to be in a psychiatric hospital.
The long-term prisoner would work. in communities of 30 to 100 men, in special industrial centres selling their products on the open market. The men would he accommodated in huts or chalets, with one staff member responsible for each building. After two years, some offenders might be promoted to a job outside the centre, and, if his progress
continued, be allowed to live in a hostel also outside the centre, yet controlled. by it.
An alternative would be to organise certain men into labour units, charged with the reclamation of land or some other project which would benefit the community but involves the kind of work which no one in the ordinary way would be keen to do. The men would live in encampments guarded by fences, lights and
the range of geophonic (sophisticated electrical alarm systems) apparatus which could be just as effective in guarding a camp as in securing a prison.
The community would support itself, provide for their families, and save for their eventual release.
(My own query would be whether something other than work on farms and constructional projects would be needed for certain types of prisoner. A man with a professional skill or a craft of a very different kind ought not, I suppose, to lose it.)
NON-CUSTODIAL SENTENCES Community Care: There are some offenders who do not need psychiatric help or social therapy, but a healthy, understanding, supportive climate in which they can mature. Small homes, like Norman House, or private families can provide their essential need: the affection and acceptance of natural or artificially created families and also of individuals.
Many examples could be quoted of men who, after enjoying this support for a time, sometimes with additional, skilled help, have moved out into the wider world again and set up home successfully for themselves often ending up with a happy marriage and a family of his own.
Farm Communities: These are not to be confused with the farm colonies prescribed for custodial sentences, What Turner has in mind under this heading of farm communities is the problem of men who reveal "great immaturity of personality" or "a serious subnormality," and who need, not prison, but the security of an organised routine, a "framework within which life deviates little from day to day."
Finland has a system of labour camps for homeless and workless recidivists facing social and economic failure. The work is road construction, much of it mechanised. There may be 150 men living in 15 huts or more, centrally heated and equipped with electricity, radio and television. There are communal canteens, a shop, and even a Sauna!
The small number of such men who have families are allowed to visit them, and there is permission for evening visits outside the camp. The men earn workers' wages, and presumably skilled help is available to handle personal problems.
There is no sadder sight than that of the man who, after leaving prison, fails to readjust and will ring anyone he thinks will listen with a threat to commit a crime or suicide.
His senseless, even abusive language is a desperate cry for help and friendship. He will often be an unappealing personality, and friendship will not be easy to give. Yet, in the Christian view, Christ died for him, and left it to us to fill up what was wanting in His sufferings.
In all Merfyn Turner's proposals, there would be ample scope for voluntary help to complement the official programme. It is. in fact. essential to all such efforts. You cannot legislate for love. And love is what this story is all about.