THERE is no pleasing hard-liners in the crime and punishment debate.
One minute it's complaints about prisoners walking free after only one-third of their sentences. Next it's furore over inmates being offered early release but choosing to remain locked up. The latter – 500 of them at the last count – prefer the "soft-touch comfort of Scotland's five-star luxury jails" rather than home detention with electronic tag and curfew.
It's the lure of the satellite flat-screen TV and the en-suite lavvies what's done it. Unaccountably, when architects designed 21st-century prisons to replace grim Victorian dungeons they failed to incorporate slop buckets and blank walls for prisoners to stare at.
The £140 million prison to be built at Peterhead looks like a five-star hotel with its smart frontage. For a public building in Grampian, it's likely the designers will go for nice granite.
We are led to believe life in five-star prisons is all Sky Sports, yoga, massages and learning Gaelic. But I suspect the room service is terrible. I've been inside twice. Once on a tour of grim and smelly Barlinnie. Once for a debate with lifers in Glenochil which was grim but not smelly. I didn't learn much except that society should imprison as few people as possible. Incarceration should be reserved for the nasty, violent and dangerous. Accommodation should be two-star at best. No flashy superjails. Build fences round a few housing estates and convert them into gulags.
Which leaves the problem of how to satisfy the apparent desire to punish prisoners. Start by tagging the 500 who want to stay in jail and chucking them out. This leaves room to lock up those looking for early release who aren't getting it. As vengeance goes, it's not that cruel. But it will have to do.
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